NECAC draws national recognition for job training apprenticeship program
BOWLING GREEN, Mo. — The federal government has recognized a program developed by the North East Community Action Corporation.
Wade Johnson, apprenticeship and training representative for the U.S. Department of Labor, presented certificates to Clintan Caldwell and Thomas Branham, the first two graduates of a job training apprenticeship NECAC set up for its newly-hired weatherization employees. He also announced an expansion of the program.
“We find this to be a historic occasion, because we have great hopes for this program,” Dan Page, deputy director for Housing Development Programs, said in a press release. “That makes the awarding of the certificates today all that much better.”
Johnson, an Air Force veteran who has previously completed apprenticeships, said Missouri is second only to California in the number of such efforts, with more than 300 programs involving 15,700 apprentices and 4,500 employers.
“It’s a pretty substantial footprint in Missouri,” Johnson said in a press release. “It’s a rigorous training program and it takes effort and perseverance.”
In addition to Page, Branham and Caldwell, others attending were Missouri Division of Energy director Craig Redmon, State Rep. Chad Perkins, Pike County Commissioner and NECAC Pike County board member Tommy Wallace, deputy director for Housing Development Programs Carla Potts, weatherization director Joe Findley, assistant weatherization director Brittany Kidd and internship candidates Andy Mackey and Jacob Niffen.
Redmon oversees the Missouri Division of Energy with which NECAC and 17 other funding recipients contract to provide weatherization services.
“It’s novel,” Redmon said of the apprenticeship. “It’s a great way to get people involved into good-paying jobs that hopefully will give them a career path forward. When I can brag on Northeast Missouri, I take every opportunity to do that, and I think this is a great program that we hope we can clone and take to our other 17 sub-grantees so they can see this and figure out how they can get the help they need to go out and help the people of Missouri.”
Perkins called the apprenticeship and other NECAC services “an incredible benefit” to Northeast Missouri. Wallace congratulated Branham and Caldwell for their persistence.
“Apprenticeships are tough,” Wallace said. “I went through three of them myself as I worked my way up in life.”
Branham and Caldwell will now start the energy auditor portion of the program. Mackey, Niffen and seven others will begin the weatherization technician part.
“I want to thank everyone at NECAC for this opportunity to work here — most importantly, to help people in need and learn new skill sets,” Caldwell said. “Thanks to the hard work training from my peers, I was able to accomplish my goals. I look forward to expanding my knowledge in the green energy field.”
Branham added, “I appreciate the opportunity to help other people, and in return, it betters me as a person.”
Mackey said the program makes him feel like he’s “making a difference” while gaining “knowledge and having a chance to better myself.”
Niffen remembers being nervous when he joined NECAC earlier this year, but he has now gained more confidence as he sees the good that comes from his work.
“I expect a couple of years from now I can be a crew leader because I really like helping people,” Niffen said. “You really learn a lot of good traits from working here.”
The apprentice program was developed by NECAC in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, Missouri Department of Labor, the Northeast Missouri Workforce Development Board and Pike-Lincoln Technical Center. The goal is to provide newly-hired weatherization employees with skills that will allow them to work in a variety of construction and energy job fields. It also reassures other non-profit weatherization agencies that they’re developing top qualified employees in the post-COVID labor market.
The NECAC effort began in March 2021. The program consists of 144 hours of classroom learning and 2,000 hours of on-the-job education. Upon completion, participants earn Department of Labor certification as a home performance laborer. Northeast Workforce Development will recruit potential employees from schools and vocational programs.
The apprenticeship may be used as a model for weatherization across the country. With a national increase in funding to weatherization from the $1.2 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill approved by Congress last November, Community Action Agencies and other non-profits across the country are gearing up and adding thousands of new employees. Missouri expects to receive $73 to $80 million of those additional funds, with NECAC’s projected share at $4.5 million. NECAC plans to add 20 to 30 additional employees to do work at an estimated 500 additional homes in the agency’s 12 Missouri counties starting this month.
More information about the apprenticeship or weatherization is available by calling NECAC at 573-324-6622.
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