Lisa Feltz, lead tele-communicator and 14-year employee, works a shift taking 9-1-1 calls and dispatching police, fire and rescue in Springfield and Greene County from the dispatchers room at the Public Safety Center in Springfield. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

More than 700 job seekers will benefit from a $3 million boost geared toward finding more emergency responders and communicators.

On July 25, the Springfield City Council voted 9-0 to accept a $3 million U.S. Department of Labor grant for its Apprenticeships Building America program. The funds will be administered locally through the Missouri Job Center and by Springfield Director of Workforce Development Sally Payne.

“It’s a four-year grant,” Payne told the Springfield City Council. “We were the only awardee, I am proud to say, in the state of Missouri. It is to serve a 10-county service region, serving 1,276 individuals.”

Payne said there will be 500 persons placed into registered apprenticeships and an additional 246 persons placed into pre-apprenticeship programs.

“It was heavy on public-private partnerships,” Payne said.

According to the Springfield Department of Workforce Development, persons who go through apprenticeships in the early stages of their careers earn an average of $300,000 more over a lifetime than people who do not train as apprentices. Payne said the $3 million grant will supply some apprentices in non-traditional career paths.

“This will provide internships in manufacturing, IT and construction, but heavily focused on [the] public sector, in particular public safety,” Payne said. “So for the first time, we’ll be doing apprenticeships for our 911 telecommunicators.”

The Springfield Police Department and the Springfield Fire Department also stand to benefit in their recruiting efforts.

“We’ve been working with the fire department for a couple of years and we will get to continue that work,” Payne said. “The police department, the police academy was already a registered apprenticeship program. However, for the first time, we will be able to enroll their cadet program as actual pre-apprenticeships, which will then put them into police service representatives, and when they are of age, they will come into the academy.”

Payne said the funding will help to formalize the pipeline a young person can go through when they start as a youth cadet, go on to enroll in the Springfield Police Department academy and then graduate to become full-fledged police officers.

In the Ozarks, Payne said apprenticeships are proven to work and are proven to get people who go through them into good jobs.

“Missouri remains No. 2 in the nation for new apprenticeships; they have a 94-percent retention rate if someone goes through an apprenticeship program,” Payne said.

The Community Partnership of the Ozarks and the Springfield Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion also will be key players in developing apprenticeship programs through the grant. There was not much debate from the Springfield City Council before the vote of approval.

“This is a major grant,” Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said.

“We’re very proud of it,” Payne replied.

“You should be,” McClure said. “Certainly, as we deal with apprenticeship and the training programs we will have, it is so crucial right now.”

Payne said the grant will help Springfield develop into a hub for employers and for job seekers. The counties included in the service area are Barry, Christian, Dade, Dallas, Greene, Lawrence, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties. The grant funding will run through the end of 2026.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger