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The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

Gianforte declares Apprenticeship Week, talks labor force shortage

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Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared Monday the beginning of Apprenticeship Week in Montana as the administration continues looking for ways to address the state’s labor shortage.

Gianforte made the annual declaration at a construction company in Helena and highlighted investments the state has made in the last year to boost apprenticeship programs, like a program that sets aside $1 million in tax credits for businesses in order to provide scholarships for trades education.

“We’re fully committed to trades education and apprenticeships to close the workforce gap that we have and create more good paying jobs,” Gianforte says.

The state labor department reports there are more job openings than new hires, indicating that employers are struggling to hire and retain staff.

Gianforte says training new skilled workers will help with the state’s labor shortage.

The Gianforte administration last summer canceled federal boosts in unemployment benefits for Montanans, and instead offered back-to-work bonuses in an attempt to address the problem. About a third of the funds set aside for those bonuses were used before the program ended.

“We just hit a 14-year low in unemployment. So the good news is, we allocated a certain amount of money — we didn’t need it all,” Gianforte says. 

Montana’s unemployment rate has declined since skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But according to the state labor department, labor force participation has decreased by about 11,000 people, or about 1%, during the pandemic. The department attributes some of that to increasing retirements, the lack of available childcare and the rising cost of housing.