The Medical Assistant Registered Apprenticeship Program in West Michigan is helping health care providers fill a critical shortage of talent and has been saluted as national Promising Practice by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department listed Michigan along with programs in Wisconsin and Idaho as states with apprenticeship programs that could serve as models for states across the country.

West Michigan Works! collaborated with local employers and educators to address a shortage of medical assistants in a region where health care is a growing field and employers are struggling to find people with in-demand skills.

With a projected 746 annual job openings by 2022 and only 151 graduates each year coming from area colleges, according to the Labor Department, the problem was sure to get worse if not addressed. The lack of medical assistants meant employers had to take talent from other area providers to fill open positions.

Spectrum Health, Mercy Health and Cherry Street Health Services worked together and created the one-year program. Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Montcalm community colleges partnered with the health care providers, developing a shared curriculum addressing the skills common to all three employers. West Michigan Works! holds the standards for the program and serves as the intermediary between the partners.

“As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, it’s important we recognize some of the outstanding programs in Michigan that are examples for the rest of the country. While we build Michigan’s talent pipeline we are proud to have proactive partners, and appreciate that the U.S. Department of Labor named the West Michigan partnership a Promising Practice.”

– Roger Curtis, Director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development

U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta met with participants and toured some of the program sites with Gov. Rick Snyder and Curtis in August to see how the program has changed the talent landscape.

The Promising Practice designation cited several factors that make the West Michigan program a national model.

  • The Workforce Board serves as an intermediary between the partners, helping negotiate the common curriculum, on-the-job training, competencies, recruitment, student financial aid and supportive services.
  • West Michigan Works! serves as the sponsor of the apprenticeship program, coordinating  administrative aspects of registering and running the apprenticeship. As one of the few workforce boards in the country to sponsor a program, it removes administrative burdens from employers.
  • One of most critical roles is combining funding to offset costs for apprentices and employers. Through various funding streams West Michigan Works! secured funding for 72 percent of the training costs for the first cohort of apprentices and 100 percent for the second cohort.

“To build a program that meets the needs of our community and our employers is very rewarding. To also be recognized as a Promising Practice by the Department of Labor is a great testament to our partners.”
– Jacob Maas, West Michigan Works! CEO

The Labor Department said that employers have been so satisfied with the Medical Assistant Registered Apprenticeship Program that apprenticeships are being developed in other health care occupations and sectors, including information technology. Construction companies and their long history of apprenticeships are rethinking how they can work with the Workforce Board to improve their programs.

The Promising Practices report offers advice for other states, things to consider when creating similar programs and the department’s expectations for the future of the West Michigan program.

Michigan is among the national leaders in apprenticeships, and the state is working to grow the number of opportunities so more students gain in-demand skills without extensive debt while employers get the help they need to grow and thrive, creating more and better jobs.

To learn more about apprenticeships in Michigan visit the Michigan Workforce Development Agency Registered Apprenticeship page. Additional information is available here for the West Michigan Works! MARAP.

MLive: Medical assistant apprenticeship success catalyst for others in region