Behavioral Technician Apprenticeship Programs Bring New Workers to Autism Center

April is Autism Awareness Month, and one northern Michigan autism center in Houghton Lake is celebrating their efforts to bring more workers into the industry.

Img 7963“Traditionally, in this industry, it’s hard to staff, it’s difficult work,” said RISE Center for Autism Chief Clinical Dr. Margaret Ficaj. “We’ve always had issues with adhering staff, and then mostly with retaining, there’s a lot of turnover.”

Their staff consists of Behavioral Health Technicians, who works one on one with children with autism.

Even though the center increased their pay, they saw other reasons people were not staying.

“We learned that people really want more than just a larger paycheck, they really want a future,” said Dr. Ficaj. “They want to feel good about what they’re doing.”

The center created two apprenticeship programs.

“One of the programs, which is sponsored through the Mid State Health Network through a very generous grant, that they gave us, at the end of the apprenticeship,  the technicians are fully prepared to sit for the registered behavior technician exam,” said Dr. Ficaj. “The U.S. Department of Labor programs that we’ve been running now, they end up with the U.S. Department of Labor Journeyman’s certificate as a Behavioral Health Technician.”

Michigan Works! Region 7B has been the middle man between the Department of Justice apprenticeship and RISE Center for Autism.

“They are earn while you learn, so you can be working and learning, get the skills, get the certifications that are needed for whatever that position is, and still be bringing home a paycheck,” said Michigan Works! Region 7B Chief Operations Officer Pam O’Laughlin. “We certainly want people in our area to stay in our community, and work our communities and raise their families in our communities, and apprenticeships are definitely one way to do that.”

Dr. Ficaj said because of these apprenticeships, they’ve been able to expand to two new clinics in Gladwin and Gaylord, because they’ve been able to retain their employees.

“We’ve been able to staff, which is amazing during a really difficult staffing time, but really the retention piece is what’s huge,” she said. “They stay because they got something to work toward and to finish, especially when you’re working with these kids because it’s important they have the stability and consistency.”