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The health care workforce gets a boost through Registered Apprenticeships

Date: Monday, November 14, 2022

"National Apprenticeship Week "In its eighth year of celebration, National Apprenticeship Week recognizes the vital connection between education and businesses in local communities. Registered Apprenticeships provide opportunities for students to connect classroom instruction with on-the-job training while often earning wages, credentials and college credits.

Many of Iowa’s community colleges play an important role in linking career-seeking students with apprenticeship opportunities. At Kirkwood Community College, they have seen great interest and success through their skilled health care apprenticeship programs, which are geared to address workforce shortages in their region.

“Our Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) apprenticeship program has 20 employer sponsors in seven counties surrounding Kirkwood’s campus,” said Norma Havlik-Smith, Workforce Initiatives Program Manager at Kirkwood. “This has been a great partnership with our communities and is a wonderful opportunity for individuals to become certified and enter into a high-demand job field.”

Kirkwood’s CNA apprenticeship program includes 144 hours of classroom instruction, state certification testing and an additional 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with an employer sponsor. A typical CNA apprenticeship program takes around one year to complete.

An apprenticeship model for CNA and other career pathways has many benefits. It allows for individuals to receive high-quality training and first-hand experiences in their desired field. Most often, students do not pay any out-of-pocket fees for tuition, books, uniforms and other needed items, and employer sponsors provide wages during the program. It also provides a direct talent pipeline for employers looking to fill vacancies and bring new people into their company’s culture.

“We’re seeing many Iowans looking for alternative pathways to get into health care careers compared to the more traditional four-year college route,” said Joe Collins, Health Care Career and Technical Education Consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “A Registered Apprenticeship allows someone to earn while they learn, both in the classroom and on the job. Who wouldn’t want to get paid while learning a new career and skill set?”

Combined with the current high demands for skilled health care professionals in Iowa and Kirkwood’s success with the CNA apprenticeship program, college officials have been looking to add other health care-related apprenticeships to their catalog. Kirkwood has been reviewing everything from phlebotomy, emergency medical technician and pharmacy technician as possible models to include in the future.

More recently, Kirkwood has added a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) apprenticeship program. Now in its third cohort of apprentices, Kirkwood has been partnering with Unity Point and Mercy Medical Center-Mercy Physician Services to provide four-year apprenticeships for CMA students. This opportunity allows CMA candidates who complete the program to enter into the health care workforce immediately, often with the same employer, or leverage their education further for other degrees.

“The CMA program is a two-year education program followed by 4,000 hours of on-the-job training with the employer,” Havlik-Smith said. “After the completion of the apprenticeship, CMAs could work towards a nursing degree as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Registered Nurse (RN) or beyond. They will have the skills to get started in doctor’s offices, urgent care clinics and hospitals.”

As Iowa continues to need workers in the health care industry, Registered Apprenticeships, internships and other work-based learning experiences will remain valuable as education and training outlets, not only in CNA and CMA programs but in the many types of health care pathways available.

“We’re seeing tremendous growth in health care and not just in the more traditional careers like doctors and nurses,” Collins said. “Iowans can analyze data to help health care facilities be more efficient, test samples in cutting edge laboratories or provide in-home therapy and support services.”

By offering Registered Apprenticeships through community colleges, more Iowans will have opportunities to upskill and find their career paths while employers will have direct input on what their employees are learning.

“Context is so important,” Havlik-Smith said. “Students can see instantly what a typical day at work is like and what the employer expects. It sets everyone up for success.”

To learn more about Iowa’s health care-related career pathways, visit the Department’s website at Information on Registered Apprenticeships in Iowa can be found at