Apprenticeship program provides career opportunities in health sector

By Sally McMahon

Investments in the rural workforce can lead to improvements in the economic stability of communities. Investing in educating and training the rural healthcare workforce is a particularly important strategy.

One such investment is the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth pre-apprenticeship program. This program is a partnership between the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Office of Career and Technical Education and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet to provide secondary students with career pathway opportunities into Registered Apprenticeship programs.

TRACK is a business and industry driven approach available statewide designed to create a pipeline for students to enter post-secondary apprenticeship training while gaining credit for courses taken and on-the-job hours worked in high school. Employers can tailor the program for their specific needs and select the courses and students for their apprenticeship program. The apprenticeship program is available in 16 career clusters, including the health science sector.

We spoke to Mary Taylor with the Office of Career and Technical Education at KDE to learn more about the program and the importance of filling the pipeline in rural areas. Taylor said, “Traditionally, apprenticeships have been utilized more in the skilled trade areas and for people out of high school, but we are seeing an increased interest from employers in more non-traditional occupations and a desire to start the pipeline at a younger age.”

Not every occupation requires a degree, but most require a learned skill set. “A good start on these skills can be acquired through high school Career and Technical Education (formerly known as vocational) programs and on-the-job experience,” Taylor said. “Employers utilizing the TRACK program have said that these students come to them with a great foundation learned in the classrooms and labs and an interest in continuing in the occupation, but without any preconceived notions enabling apprentices to learn their processes from the beginning.”

Results in Rural Communities

This model is working well in rural communities around the commonwealth. Rockcastle Area Technology Center and Rockcastle Regional Hospital and Respiratory Care Center in Mount Vernon, Kentucky developed Kentucky’s first TRACK Youth Apprenticeship in Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

Rockcastle Regional Chief Nursing Officer Tammy Brock, RN, Julie Mullins, RN, in conjunction with Rockcastle Area Technical Center (ATC) Health Science instructor Rhonda Childress, worked to create the opportunity for qualified candidates. 

The CNA apprenticeship program starts when Rockcastle County High School students take the health science elective courses. Those who perform at a high level and express an interest in the nursing field will go through a selection process with Rockcastle Regional to determine the final TRACK Certified Nursing Assistant candidates. Those selected work for Rockcastle Regional during the summer. 

As seniors, students will continue to work for Rockcastle Regional, receive instruction at Rockcastle ATC and work to obtain their CNA certification. Students obtain on-the-job training in a multitude of competencies while at the hospital.

The culmination of this program is a Journeyperson Certification and a continued position at the hospital after graduating.

“In today’s healthcare environment, nursing shortages are being seen nationwide,” said Brock. “The TRACK program is an excellent opportunity for our organization to identify talented, intelligent, and highly-driven young people who are interested in the nursing field and help them get on a fast track to jump start their career. It allows students to connect with a potential future employer, as well as gain hands-on experience early on so they can be confident they are choosing the best career path for them.”

Apprenticeships During COVID-19

Taylor said that the COVID-19 crisis has altered the format of the programs. “Since the future of the economy is uncertain at this point and students are unsure about their post-secondary plans due to changes in financial situations, apprenticeships could be a very attractive option to both employers and students alike,” Taylor said. “Employers can use this model to grow employees as needed and tap into the ready-made and sustainable pipeline of students taking secondary Career and Technical Education courses.  Students will be attracted to this earn as you learn approach where they can pursue a nationally recognized credential.”

Growing Talent

The US Department of Labor has more than 1,000 occupations registered with its Office of Apprenticeship. Businesses are encouraged to register their modern apprenticeship programs to ensure program components and competencies meet national standards for quality and rigor, and apprentice’s skills are well honed and relevant. 

“There are so many opportunities that can take place in healthcare facilities of all sizes in both patient care and in administration/operations,” Taylor said. “While several occupations in patient care require a degree, students can get their start with an entry level positions and work their way up earning stackable credentials and gain credit for prior learning through their hands-on experience.”

Information about the apprenticeship program can be found at

Employer Benefits

  • Employer-tailored training
  • Employer selects students and courses for program
  • Employer selects post-secondary requirements
  • Employer cultivates a loyal employee
  • Works with any number of trainees
  • “Grow Your Own” approach to skilled worker shortage
  • Can create multiple pipelines by working with several different schools in the region
  • Saves time and money