Montana Governor’s Bill To Expand Trades Education Gains Support

HELENA,MT (STL.News) Industry stakeholders, business owners, and education leaders today testified in support of Governor Greg Gianforte’s bill to expand trades education in Montana.

The measure, H.B. 252, helps address the growing skilled labor shortage in Montana by creating the Montana Trades Education Credit (M-TEC).

The bill, outlined in Governor Gianforte’s Roadmap to the Montana Comeback budget, provides $1 million per year in 50-percent credits to businesses for their employees to learn a trade.  The funding level will support as many as 1,000 scholarships annually.  Under the program, employers and employees can decide on training that is best for the business and the employee.

In his State of the State address on January 28, Gianforte said M-TEC will “strengthen our workforce, ensuring that Montana workers are well-equipped to succeed, thrive, and achieve the American dream.”

Before the House Taxation Committee this morning, many Montanans lined up to support the bill, which Rep. Llew Jones (R., HD-18) sponsors.

Julia Altemus, on behalf of Montana Wood Products Association: “One of the biggest challenges Montana’s forest products industry faces is recruiting a qualified workforce….Not unlike other industries that have come before you, we do face a workforce challenge….We certainly appreciate the governor and the sponsor for bringing the bill forward – we do think it will help.”

Daniel Brooks, director of business advocacy for Billings Chamber of Commerce: “We hear from our trades businesses the need for more emphasis on trades education and training….Providing for additional incentives and the flexible options for training that this bill provides is all the more important as we recover from a global pandemic.”

Dave Galt, on behalf of the Montana Petroleum Association: “We’re always looking for skilled craftsmen or tradesmen….We have a history in our industry of supporting the trades schools and universities, for that matter, across the state, and we encourage your support.”

Igan Graff, general contractor, on behalf of the Montana Building Industry Association and National Association of Home Builders Institute: “We are far from full employment in the construction industry….It’s a very competitive market. Retaining employees is difficult….If [employers] can use this as an incentive to recruit and retain employees, I believe our industry will be able to grow.”

Cynthia Johnson, farmer, rancher, and vice president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation: “Every business owner knows the value of being able to secure local service – from electricians, carpenters, welders, plumbers, etc. Sometimes the fate of my ag production year rests in the hands of those who are technically trained to perform repairs, or to diagnose equipment failure.  Businesses across the state have been insisting that Montana needs more attention paid to the technical trades.  I think HB 252 is a great start for the state of Montana to put our money where our mouth is, and I encourage it to pass.”

Tammy Johnson, executive director of Montana Mining Association: “Skilled trades folks are really in short supply at the moment….We appreciate that [HB 252 leaves] the door open for whatever type of training may be needed, whether it’s through educational institutes, or training on new equipment, etc.”

Clay Ledbetter, general manager of Liberty Electric: “There’s a great need for skilled tradesmen in Montana right now.  We have a workforce where skilled tradesmen are retiring at a rate greater than the youth are being trained.  We need all the help we can get on our side of the business in training this youth, and this bill would be a great way to incentivize employers to hire more apprentices and put more people in the workforce.”

Bridger Mahlum, government relations director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce: “Especially for the business community, workforce development, recruiting and retaining workers, is a top challenge.…We believe that HB 252 is another tool to bring us another step closer to solving that challenge.  The bill upscales workers, while it also strengthens the employee-employer relationship….Being able to help an employee afford a textbook or two, or a little bit of tuition, can make all the difference to upscale that person to an even more prominent role in that business.  We believe this is just an excellent, commonsense bill to incentivize workforce development.”

Margaret Morgan, executive director of the Independent Electrical Contractors: “It’s a big investment by the sponsoring contractor to train an apprentice.  Not only are there the upfront costs that are mentioned in this bill, but there are many, many underlying administrative costs as well.  This bill would help create more high-paying jobs for the trades.”

Casey Olson, president of the Montana Water Well Drillers Association: “The Montana Water Well Drillers Association appreciates that the Governor is proposing a program that not only helps us grow our business and train workers, but that helps our employees advance in their careers as well.”

Sam Sill, government affairs director for Montana Association of Realtors: “The number one problem for the real estate industry and for homebuyers is a lack of inventory.  That is certainly at least in part due to the fact that we’re just not building enough homes. Part of the reason for that is….a significant shortage of skilled labor in the building trades.  We’re here today to support this bill because….it’s going to provide some good opportunities to train more people up and get more folks in the trades work.”

Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner of higher education for the Montana University System: “The State of Montana has a significant shortage of skilled workers, particularly in trades….We also know as a result of our own analyses….that one of the ways in which we can address the skilled worker shortage is by expanding state support for workforce training throughout the university system….We feel like HB 252 is a well-designed tool for lowering the cost of this important training.”

Austin Trunkle, business outreach and economic development policy project manager at Big Sky Economic Development: “As it relates to the strengthening of our workforce through trades education and training, Big Sky Economic Development would like to support HB 252….As we look forward to continuing our economic recovery beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, giving these workers and their employers the tools they need to grow and expand their business is paramount.

Steve Wade, on behalf of the Montana Contractors Association: “Workforce development is… a critical issue in Montana, and a priority issue for the Montana Contractors Association and has been for a number of years… HB 252, we think, will be a valuable tool to allow an employer to select the appropriate training for a particular purpose, and hopefully that will be a critical piece in solving the workforce development problem.”

Ronda Wiggers, representing the Helena Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business: “Finding qualified labor remains one of the number one problems for small business owners across the nation….[HB 252] is a novel and interesting… way to encourage government and business to work together to solve this shortage in our labor.”

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