Many operators must have breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week. That’s when Argentum announced it had received a $6 million grant from the Labor Department to develop and expand apprenticeship programs.

The infusion hardly could come at a better time. Chronic staffing shortages are rampant, unemployment levels are at a half-century low, and many talent-war competitors in other sectors are offering wages that senior living operators simply can’t deliver.

To be sure, apprentice programs hardly are going to make the staffing-shortage problem go away. But they will encourage people to consider this sector. They also might give others a reason to stay.

James Balda, who is Argentum’s president and CEO, noted that “senior living providers increasingly see that building robust career paths will be critical to retaining and growing the skilled workers we need.”

Better still, a new option might emerge soon.

In the past two years, President Trump’s administration has requested $160 million and $200 million to support Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs. The initiative essentially shifts government oversight to industry groups such as companies and trade associations. They would function separately from the Labor Department’s registered apprenticeship system.

Although Congress previously has not authorized any of the requested IRAPs funds, things might be different this time. That’s because the budget proposal the White House sent to Congress earlier this month aligns with the Labor Department’s forthcoming final rule to get the IRAP model started.

Touring a plant in Milwaukee this week, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia lauded IRAPs. He added that one of the nation’s major economic challenges is “ensuring that we have workers with the skills to fill the jobs that our economy is creating.”

As with anything involving politics and the need for congressional approval, this is hardly a done deal. But IRAPs might benefit both Republicans and Democrats — as each side could claim credit for creating jobs. So there’s that.

Stay tuned.

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