Emergency Services Committee to pose grant for apprenticeship to Board

Jun. 19—THOMASVILLE- The Thomas County Emergency Services Committee met on Monday afternoon, where they heard from Amy Carter of Southern Regional Technical College in regard to a grant for an apprenticeship program between SRTC and Thomas County.

The apprenticeship would be the first of its kind and aim to train fire medics, or individuals who are cross trained in both fire rescue and emergency medical services.

Carter has worked closely with Emergency Services Director Derek Ogletree to devise a plan that would allow the county and "recruits" to both be in a winning position.

"The plan would be to recruit folks into the program and put them through the fire training first and once they get finished with that then sign them up for the EMS portion," Carter said.

Carter explained the apprenticeship would be a three-year program that offers shadowing and mentoring, which can be vital in a dual role like a fire medic.

"It also offers financial benefits to the student and employer potentially," Carter shared.

The apprenticeship program currently offers the Apprenticeship for Economic Recover (AER) grant, which provides $4,400 in funding for students' training and work expenses.

"The student is put on a 3-month probationary period, but after that the money can go toward any school out-of-pocket expenses," Carter explained. "It can be used for state boards, uniforms or any additional training that wouldn't necessarily already be involved in the training we offer."

In addition to that grant, employers are given consideration through the High Demand Career Initiative, which is Georgia's first-ever state-funded apprenticeship initiative.

Employers who are chosen to participate in the program can receive $10,000 per apprentice (based on the length of the apprenticeship) once the apprentice has successfully completed the program. Employers are eligible to receive awards for up to five employed registered apprentices per year.

"It's a win, win, win," said Carter. "You don't have to pay anything to register these apprentices and you need the trained workforce, which is what we are going to give you."

Carter went on to explain there is not much the county will have to do on their behalf. The county, along with SRTC will train the apprentices, but in the event one of the apprentices isn't what Thomas County Fire Rescue needs, the contract can be terminated.

"If it doesn't work out, we tear it up and it's done," Carter said. "It's not binding you to keep someone who you don't need on the force."

Carter then concluded her presentation, fielding questions from the Commissioners.

Commissioner Mark NeSmith said the county, like many other employers across the United States, has struggled to get applications for jobs in emergency medical services. He questioned what Carter and SRTC would do differently in order to attract quality candidates.

"I think if you take your team and our team and come up with a really enticing marketing plan, we can take several approaches," Carter said.

Carter said she would be interested in showcasing the new apprenticeship program to the high school students who are currently enrolled in the Health Occupations program.

"That's a captive market," she explained. "They may only be 15, 16 or 17-years-old, but at least you can get them thinking that way."

She also said she would interested in approaching Archbold.

"Currently at Archbold, I have about 25 apprentices," Carter said. "What I have done with them (Archbold), is convinced them to look at their patient techs, who don't have any training and upskilling them."

Carter believes it's possible some of those same patient techs could want to get into the EMS or fire medic service, but don't know the right path.

"The hospital needs these EMT folks just as badly as you do," she said.

Commissioner Wiley Grady then questioned if anything prevents the apprentices from going elsewhere after they are trained by Thomas County.

"There are no guarantees," Carter told Grady. "We certainly can't force them to stay with you. As a college, we don't have any right to make them stay with an employer."

County Manager Mike Stephenson stopped to remind Grady that with the 3-year contract, the apprentices would be in the same position as any current county employee.

Commissioners then turned to Ogletree to ask if he thought this would help with recruitment.

"I do see it as helping with recruiting," Ogletree said. "As Mrs. Carter said, there are people out there who are interested and want to do it, but don't know how to get started."

Carter took several more questions in regard to what would happen if an apprentice dropped out after the fire portion.

Carter explained the student would no longer be considered an apprentice and would not be registered for the EMS portion.

She reminded the Commissioners that all students registering as an apprentice would know prior to registration that the fire rescue and EMS come as a package.

Ogletree also told Commissioners that firefighters often become hungry to be medics after their first experience in an ambulance.

With that, Emergency Services Chairman Moses Gross entertained a motion to take Carter's grant request to the County Commissioners.

Commissioner Kenneth Hickey made the motion, with Commissioner Donnie Baggett seconding.

Carter's apprenticeship program will now need to be approved by the Thomas County Board of Commissioners before students can be enrolled.