Behavioral Technician Apprenticeship Programs Bring New Workers to Autism Center

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

“Traditionally in this industry it’s hard to staff, it’s hard work,” said RISE Center for Autism Chief Clinic Dr. Margaret Ficaj. “We have always had problems with the adherent staff, then especially with retention, there is a lot of turnover.”

Their staff is made up of behavioral health technicians, who work one-on-one with autistic children.

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

“We’ve learned that people really want more than a bigger salary, they really want a future,” Dr. Ficaj said. “They want to feel good about what they do.”

The center has created two learning programs.

“One of the programs, which is sponsored by the Mid State Health Network through a very generous grant, which they gave us, at the end of the apprenticeship, the technicians are fully prepared to take the technician exam in recorded behavior,” said Dr. Ficaj. “The US Department of Labor programs that we currently run, they end up earning the US Department of Labor Journeyman Certificate as a Behavioral Health Technician.”

Michigan works! Region 7B served as the conduit between Justice Department learning and the RISE Center for Autism.

“They’re earned while you learn, so you can work and learn, learn the skills, get the certifications you need for any job, and still take home a paycheck,” Michigan Works says! Pam O’Laughlin, Chief of Operations for Region 7B. “We certainly want people in our area to stay in our community, work in our communities, and raise their families in our communities, and apprenticeships are definitely a way to do that.”

Dr Ficaj said that with these learnings they were able to expand to two new clinics in Gladwin and Gaylord as they were able to retain their employees.

“We’ve been able to recruit staff, which is amazing during a really tough recruiting time, but what’s really important is retention,” she said. “They stay because they have something to work on and finish, especially when you’re working with these kids because it’s important that they have stability and consistency.”

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