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Transforming Lives and Energizing Futures: Idaho LAUNCH Webinar Highlights Success Stories

On March 1, Idaho Energy Freedom hosted a webinar focused on the growing demand for clean energy workers in our state. The webinar included two special guest speakers, Dr. Sherawn Reberry, Program Manager for Idaho LAUNCH; and Vince Bowen, Idaho State University’s department chair at the College of Technology and executive director of the Energy Systems Technology & Education Center.

The Idaho LAUNCH initiative

Dr. Reberry introduced the Idaho LAUNCH initiative, which embarked on its mission in November 2020. The program’s primary objective is to bridge the gap between Idahoans and the skills demanded by employers, facilitating an unprecedented connection between education and industry. Idaho LAUNCH for adults pays 80% of tuition and fees at the approved training providers, up to $5,000. LAUNCH helps to make education more accessible for Idahoans of all backgrounds and income levels, expanding those equitable opportunities across the state.

Reberry said that more than 1,800 employers participated in the Idaho LAUNCH kickoff survey to identify the skills they needed in employees, and today, more than 8,000 Idahoans have received training through the program. 

Last year, the Legislature expanded Idaho LAUNCH to high school students to encourage and support them in post-secondary education that fills a workforce need in the state. Reberry shared that over 1,000 high school students have already indicated interest in engineering degrees, engineering technician degrees and certificates, along with the construction and the trades, with the degrees, certifications and licenses. 

Reberry said the goal was to see about 10,000 applications, but as of March 1, more than 13,000 Idaho seniors had applied, out of approximately 21,000 total high school seniors in the state. 

More than 750 Idaho State University students apply for LAUNCH

Bowen confirmed that Idaho State University had also seen a surge in applications, particularly for programs within the College of Technology, attributable to Idaho LAUNCH. He said there are 777 applications through LAUNCH for ISU programs, including 175 students that have shown a possible interest in the College of Technology, including specific training programs geared towards closing the workforce gaps in Idaho’s clean energy economy, such as: construction, engineering, transportation, and even design, which equates to jobs such as rad techs, mechatronics engineers among many, many other positions. 

Reberry shared that all types of engineering, including civil, chemical, electrical general, and CAD training programs along with plumbing, welding, and even robotics have applications in clean energy. This matters, since Bowen noted that there is a “major shortage” of clean energy workers. 

Governor’s 2024 Energy Landscape Report showcases clean energy positions

Governor Brad Little’s 2024 Energy Landscape Report showed that Idaho has more than 50,000 energy jobs with an average wage of $91,000. Ideally, those jobs go to in-state graduates, but Bowen said ISU grads have been getting hired in Blanding, Utah, at the only operating uranium mill in the country, as well as Los Alamos Lab in New Mexico. 

“They have such a need for nuclear operators that they’re actually funding some of the upgrades we’re doing to the programs,” Bowen said. “If you want to be a reactor operator, you will start at both the INL and Los Alamos National Lab at roughly $85,000 a year. The remainder of the program’s instrumentation, including electrical, mechanical, and industrial cybersecurity, these jobs start somewhere around $60,000. So it’s a great way to change your life.”

LAUNCH success stories

Reberry shared two LAUNCH success stories on the webinar, including one man who was just out of prison and didn’t know what he wanted to do upon release, other than he knew he did not want to return to prison. He applied for the adult LAUNCH program, and signed up to get his commercial driver’s license (CDL).

“Once that training was complete, he was hired right away in his first year,” Reberry said. “He made a great salary, $80,000 in his first year. As he went through and learned more, he was promoted within the company where he was hired and increased his salary. His story really brought tears to my eyes because he was so grateful for Idaho LAUNCH, for Idaho, putting him through the training because he was able to purchase his first car. He had never done that before. And this gentleman, who is late 40s or early 50s, is now just getting ready to make an offer on his first house.”

Reberry shared another story about a high school student who received LAUNCH support. This high school graduate wasn’t going to go on after finishing her degree due to a lack of resources. Then she met the director of Idaho LAUNCH while traveling and then talked with her guidance counselor about it and decided to apply for the dental assistant training program. As she did more research and talked with our staff, she actually decided to shoot higher and become a dental hygienist.

“Without the help of Idaho Launch, she said she wouldn’t be able to do so,” Reberry said. “These are stories that just to me warm my heart. They give me goosebumps, and again, they’re just two of a wide field of success stories.”

Idaho Energy Freedom is grateful to Reberry and Bowen for sharing their perspectives and expertise. Consider donating to IEF in order to support future webinars and other educational events. 

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