Strengthening Kansas Communities, One Apprenticeship at a Time
When Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) leaders sat down in early 2022 to brainstorm innovative ways to support their members, strengthening the state’s rural economic health emerged as a top priority.
The organization was hearing from member after member about the lack of available workers for their farms and other businesses. Employers in the agriculture industry — and many others across the state — were struggling to find skilled labor while plenty of workers were struggling to find employment. What could the organization do to connect the two, while also encouraging high school graduates to remain in their home state and local communities as they began their careers?
A Homegrown Solution
The idea that surfaced was the Rural Kansas Apprenticeship Program (RKAP), a robust workforce program designed to meet the unique needs of Kansas employers and the workers best suited to fill their open positions. Through RKAP, KFB works with employers to set up training programs for specific jobs.
“The RKAP program can tailor an apprenticeship experience to an employee through their employer and help the employee gain the knowledge they need to be successful in that line of work,” Joel Leftwich, KFB chief strategy officer, said. “We’ll build a program for them that shows the hours and duties required for the apprenticeship along with the hours required for related technical instruction outside of work, and that program then receives a thumbs-up from the State of Kansas.”
Developed with a grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce’s Office of Registered Apprenticeship, RKAP offers a comprehensive career-readiness experience while it provides apprentices with a certified credential showing they’ve mastered the required skills.
Like other apprenticeships, RKAP is a win for all involved. Employers can design a precise training program, and employees can work full time while they train.
“This is an option for folks who want to get started working right away, whether that’s on a farm, a ranch, an agricultural operation or a business in their rural community,” Leftwich said. “Some folks want to go to a four-year or two-year institution and focus on their education before they go to work — that’s great, but this is for the full-time employee who wants to earn and learn or who has maybe already graduated.”
Flexibility is key. The amount of apprentice work and related technical instruction courses required (for instance, CPR, specialized training or many others) vary from job to job. A general farmworker position is a one-year RKAP program, including 2,000 hours on the job and 144 hours of related technical instruction. In the engineering or aviation industry, an employee might complete a four-year program.
“The variety among the programs is very wide, even within the agriculture industry,” Leftwich said. “We may even partner with a community college program on some training if they have the expertise we need. It depends on what the employer wants to do and the credentials needed.”
What Leftwich likes best about RKAP is its potential to strengthen a community. Apprentices are assigned a mentor to serve as a career guide and assist with professional network expansion. The required related technical instruction further expands that network as the apprentice gains additional skills. But most importantly, RKAP has the potential to help rural communities continue to thrive.
“Our mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service,” Leftwich said. “That lets us offer this opportunity not just to Farm Bureau members, but to nonmembers as well. Our board of directors sees RKAP as a way to invest in all our rural communities.”
He uses a topic near and dear to his heart as an example: doughnuts.
“Say the owners of a local doughnut shop want to retire but there’s no one with the proper training to manage it,” he said. “We can build that program, or one for a repair shop or a tire shop, which helps prevent the loss of that business in the community.”
KFB is actively working to build a network of employers and potential employees who would be interested in potential apprenticeship opportunities. To learn more about the program, eligibility and application procedures, visit the Kansas Farm Bureau website.