s the COVID-19 pandemic rolled through its mountains like a debilitating fog, Missouri found itself facing a shortage of medical staff, teachers, and transportation and logistics professionals. All three industries are key to the health of the state economy. There was a desperate need for registered nurses but also language arts, math and special education teachers. Truck drivers are also in dire need, yet there are only about six apprentices per commercial driving school.
In 2022, the city of Springfield was one of the winners of the Good Jobs Challenge, affording the city $17.5 million to aid in a workforce development plan that began rolling the year before. The plan targets three industries in need of trained workers across the 51-county region of Southern Missouri: healthcare, transportation and education. Fourteen counties were identified as persistent poverty counties, and 86% of the population covered resides in rural areas.
The backbone organizations of the facilitator and founding organization, the Quadra-Regional Workforce Alliance (QRWA), are the Missouri Hospital Association, Truck Dynasty Driving Academy and Missouri State University.
A few of the most prominent partnerships include Cox Health and Jordan Valley Community Health Center, with Truck Dynasty Driving Academy and Missouri State University also making individual training commitments. The Missouri workforce system itself has leveraged Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act systems to recruit and support 900 participants.
There are 26 employer partners across three industries and four regions, with the biggest partner Cox Health committing to train and support over 1,200 QRWA participants, an endeavor valued at nearly $2.5 million. The hospital system currently offers a medical assistant registered apprenticeship, but through QRWA have committed to expanding their apprenticeship programs to 11 other professions including pharmacy technicians, nurse assistants, surgical technicians, medical coders and many more.
This is particularly good for the workers who can enter the professions with little specialized experience and without debt. In south central Missouri, where Cox Health is a pillar employer, only about 20% of the population has an associate degree or higher. Registered apprenticeships help fill skills gaps that normally would be filled with a higher degree. In 2021, Missouri had nearly 5,000 vacant nursing positions. Major hospital systems were growing anxious about the shortage of trained workers.
These commitments of training also come with reassurances of placement. In the summer of 2022, Cox Health partnered with Ozark Technical Community College to run an EMT apprenticeship for 10 students with guaranteed placement. Students were paid to take classes at a rate of $13 per hour, and once certified they earned $18 per hour. As employees of Cox Health, students were able to seek childcare through the hospital so that they could work and take classes.
QRWA partner Jordan Health plans to train a smaller pool of around 150 workers to be medical and dental assistants and has also committed to a 100% placement rate for its QRWA participants.
Better Pay Leads to Classroom Upskilling
Missouri faced a teacher shortage ahead of the new school year, and in February of 2022 the state Board of Education announced plans to appoint a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission to help address staff shortages. A March 2022 report from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found that elementary education suffered the biggest deficit and was short by nearly 2,200 elementary teachers. Special education was missing nearly 1,000 teachers. Springfield Public Schools lost 257 teachers alone last year.
Part of the shortage comes from the low pay for teachers, which is also being remedied. Missouri ranks last out of U.S. states for starting teacher pay. The minimum starting pay for teachers in Missouri is $25,000, and averages under $33,000. Gov. Mike Parson announced plans in 2022 to raise the minimum to $38,000. Local education agencies were able to apply for grants to cover the salary increase, and the hope is that increased pay results in better retention.
As one of the backbone organizations, Missouri State University (MSU) has committed to train 200 education paraprofessional apprentices over the three-year program timeline through their program Pathways for Paras.
Trucking Through Missouri
The American Trucking Association estimated there were 80,000 vacant trucking positions in 2021. In Springfield alone the logistics sector has a $14.3 billion annual economic impact. Missouri has 28 commercial driver’s license (CDL) schools and 173 active CDL apprentices with the support of QRWA. Among other activity:
It is the second-most-populous higher education institution in the state and is the largest teacher education preparation institution in Missouri, with the only certified apprenticeship for special education. Dr. Reesha Adamson and Dr. Jon Turner built the program at Missouri State, and it’s funded by the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act.
“All universities need to be thinking ‘outside the box’ on developing new teachers — it’s a crisis,” said Turner in an interview with the Springfield News-Leader. “An apprenticeship model is a unique, true partnership between K-12 and higher education that can still produce high-quality teachers.”
The apprenticeship program is the first of its kind in Missouri and offers on-the-job training for special education paraprofessionals looking to become special education teachers. The formal teaching position offers better pay and more security than the paraprofessional position, and the Pathways for Paras program allows students to continue to work at their schools and earn money and credit.
The degree can often be covered by scholarships and grants, and if students take the “learn while you earn” pathway, costs are reduced by 50%. Since the program launched in spring of 2022, some 263 paras have been enrolled. “Our undergraduate program has almost doubled,” Adamson told the Springfield News-Leader. “Our graduate program is three times the size that it was.”