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Community college nursing apprenticeship helping meet need in Alabama

Alabama’s historic move to allow nursing apprenticeships through Alabama’s community and technical colleges is helping combat nursing shortages across the state.

Since new rules passed last year allowing Alabama healthcare employers to enter into an apprenticeship agreement with nursing programs in the Alabama Community College System, an estimated 400 nursing apprentices across 17 colleges have served with nurses at more than 60 healthcare facilities.

Apprenticeships are paid, high-quality career pathways that allow residents to learn and earn at the same time. Employers who invest in apprenticeships can hire students to train on the job while the student works toward completing a degree or certification.

Nursing apprenticeships started last year when Coastal Alabama and Gadsden State community colleges became the first in the state to offer the program. During the initial phase, 30 apprentices played a pivotal role in filling nursing vacancies across four employers in those regions.

More than 8,450 students were enrolled in registered nursing and licensed practical nursing programs at Alabama’s community colleges last academic year. In that same time frame, a total of 2,950 students obtained a nursing credential.

Twenty-two of Alabama’s 24 community and technical colleges offer a nursing program.

“We are so thankful for the forward mindedness that went into creating the framework for nursing apprenticeships,” said Tracy Doughty, Huntsville Hospital president and chief operating officer. The hospital offers nursing apprenticeships through Drake State Community & Technical College, where 19 licensed practical nurses were recently pinned in the Huntsville college’s inaugural LPN Launch apprenticeship cohort.

“We’ve had several hospitals from the state and outside our region call and ask, ‘How’d you do this? Show us the blueprint’, so it lets us know we’re setting a standard for others across the country,” he said.

Students who apply and are accepted as nurse apprentices serve as employees of the healthcare facility and work alongside an experienced nurse. Nurse apprentices can continue their employment by completing their apprenticeship and passing the National Council Licensure Examination that certifies nurses.

Trinity Carlisle, a Drake State alum who participated in the LPN Launch program with Huntsville Hospital, said she appreciated the support the apprenticeship allowed from the college and her employer.

“Our instructors supported us and wanted the very best from us from Day One, and went beyond helping us when it came to understanding a hard subject, staying after lab to practice skills, and even making sure we had what we needed outside the classroom to be successful,” she said.

“I cannot wait to see where this career takes me.”

As the Alabama Community College System celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, apprenticeships are among the system’s greatest successes. Businesses work with Alabama’s community and technical colleges to offer apprenticeships that help meet workforce needs in several high-demand industries, including manufacturing, nursing, and childcare.

“Some of the best training is on-the-job, and we are the strongest in workforce development in Alabama when we create avenues for our students to achieve through work-based learning such as apprenticeships,” said Jimmy H. Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

“The Alabama Community College System has a footprint in every region of the state to help residents reach success. We will continue to build on relationships we have with community leaders, residents and employers of all sizes to accommodate the workforce training needs that help residents work and study at the same time.”

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