New apprenticeship program aims to address Washington’s behavioral health workforce crisis

A new apprenticeship program aims to help address the behavioral health workforce crisis in Washington.

 

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The SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Multi-Employer Training Fund has developed the statewide Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium. The program will begin offering 3 new behavioral health apprenticeship programs this fall.

More than 22% of Washington adults reported having some kind of mental illness in 2020, and 25% of them reported that they were unable to access care. The consortium aims to help address workforce needs through a behavioral health technician apprenticeship program, a peer counselor apprenticeship program, and a substance use disorder professional apprenticeship program.

Training Fund Executive Director Laura Hopkins said funds for the consortium came from several sources, including the Ballmer Group ($5 million), King County ($4 million), and the state ($1.5 million).

“We also got some money from the city of Seattle,” Hopkins said. “It’s been a really significant effort. We started having meetings with behavioral health employers a long time ago to see what occupations we should start with. We landed on the behavioral health tech, the peer counselor, and the substance abuse disorder professional.”

Apprentices will work full-time while gaining skills taught by experienced teachers, coaches, and mentors. They will be supervised by the lead provider at a facility, and mentors will assist them with on-the-job learning.

“The funding allowed us to build a great curriculum,” Hopkins said. “The grant money pays for apprentices to have a wage on the day they go to school. We have invested a good chunk of money into building virtual reality components to the program. You can teach empathy and other soft skills.”

The peer counselor cohort will begin on Oct. 10, and will include 250 hours of classroom and lab sessions, 2,000 hours of work experience, and will require passage of the Washington State Health Care Authority certified peer counselor test.

The substance abuse professional cohort will begin on Oct. 10, and will include 560 hours of classroom and lab sessions, 4,000 hours of work experience, and will require passing the National Certified Addiction Counselor Level I certification exam. 

The behavioral health technician cohort will begin on Aug. 15, and will include 250 hours of classroom and lab sessions, 2,000 hours of work experience, and will require passing the NA-C exam.

The program also offers rare financial perks to participating employers.

“Never have we had employers sign on so quickly to participate,” Hopkins said. “We have quite a few employers lined up. A big chunk [of money] is going to behavioral health employers to cover costs of implementing the apprenticeship program. The behavioral health sector is operating on zero money. They’re stretched so thin so having these resources helps them be able to do the program. We also pay some administrative costs.”