New sewing apprenticeship program helps fill labor shortage

Posted at 7:53 AM, Mar 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 09:54:09-04

BOISE, Idaho — For nearly two years, Boise has been a designated "Welcoming City."

Boise was certified as a Welcoming City back in May of 2019 by Welcoming America, a national non-profit, non-partisan organization that provides guidance and support to help communities become more inclusive toward immigrants and all residents.

Central to that goal is programs like the International Rescue Committee's industrial sewing apprenticeship program.

The program allows people to develop​ skills that meet a huge need in the Treasure Valley: labor.

"We have a lot of individuals who find themselves in financial difficulty in recovering from COVID-19 or in transitioning to life here in America," explained Rebecca Wilkey, with the International Rescue Committee.

Graduates of the program will gain a national industrial sewing certification, plus the skills they need to succeed in the industry.

"Over the course of the next year we're going to train up a minimum of 20-30 individuals to fill this labor shortage in industrial sewing," Wilkey said. "(They'll) have the skillsets, the hands-on machine experience and vocabulary of the industry to really hit the ground running."

It's a program made possible thanks to a $25,000 grant from the Idaho Workforce Development Council. The money will help get the program up and running--and create a pipeline for graduates of the program to find jobs with local manufacturers.

"The very first hurdle we came across was resources, employees, being able to find qualified people to do the industrial sewing we have a need for," said Jamey Sproull, Co-Owner of Stitch Fabrication.

Rita Thara Yenga is a sewing technician who teaches apprentices core concepts. She says she's been able to learn by helping others--but the biggest lesson has been the accepting community within the program.

"No matter who you are, your skin color, or your religion. We all are here to work and help each other to succeed," Thara Yenga said. "I really appreciate working here--working with a good team. Everyone is kind and nice, so I feel comfortable working here. I'm so happy to be here."

The first round of classes starts in April. The International Rescue Committee is expecting around 8 students in the first round, and another 20 are expected to start later this year.