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Workforce Wednesday: Support for apprentice programs helps GRCC partner with local firms, boost opportunities for students

July 20, 2022, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Buist Electric has partnered with Grand Rapids Community College for more than 15 years on an apprenticeship program, but a recent grant expansion is creating opportunities for students to gain valuable skills while completing their education.

Buist has about 70 apprentices enrolled in the GRCC Electrical Apprenticeship program, which allows students to work and gain hands-on experience while taking classes.

The federal Expanding Community College Apprenticeships grant helps with expenses for students in apprenticeship programs. This year’s award expanded opportunities for support.

The program is led by the American Association of Community Colleges with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, and is aimed at boosting the number of apprentice programs and services throughout the country.

The ECCA project will be conducted over 3 years and will train 16,000 apprentices. GRCC is one of just three colleges in Michigan to be included, and former GRCC President Bill Pink served on the advisory board.

Jared Doot is a third-year apprentice and appreciates the opportunity.

“Becoming an electrician was truly a leap of faith for me,” he said. “I had been working in the IT field for 15 years when I decided to make a major career change. I have a family to support so I needed a situation that would provide income and training at the same time. Buist and this apprenticeship program was an answer to my prayers. The fact that my employer covers this expense is amazing.”

Books for the GRCC Electrical Apprenticeship program typically cost students about $400.

Kim Kohlhoff, human resources manager at the Byron Center-based Buist, sees the impact this award has had at her company.

“It may not seem like a significant amount. But when you multiply that by 60-70 employees, it is a great deal of money,” she said. “It was a huge benefit for us as an employer to be able to support our employees, but then to receive funds back that we can pour back into the company. As an employee-owned company, this has a positive impact for all of us. We are so grateful to ECCA and GRCC for making this connection and supporting the skilled trades industry.”

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