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Native American colleges adding career opportunities with apprenticeship program

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Posted at 7:11 PM, Nov 04, 2023

BILLINGS — There's a huge need for skilled workers in Montana but a solution can be found in a collaboration between the Montana Registered Apprentice Program and Native American colleges like Little Big Horn and Chief Dull Knife. The state is hoping to tap into the Native population to encourage more students to look into the trades.

One Little Big Horn College student named Larry Martin has taken full advantage of that program and is now on the cusp of a new career as an electrician.

With a background in construction, and a master's degree, Crow native Martin is a jack of all trades.

“I worked my way through, started at 15 in construction. And worked my way through college pouring concrete and doing different odds and end jobs,” Martin said on Wednesday at InterUrban Apartments on the far West End.

Now the single father is almost a master of one more trade.

“I’m an apprenticeship electrician and we are doing the electrical on these buildings here, we have the contract,” said Martin.

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Back in 2021, Little Big Horn College established a partnership with MSU Northern to provide apprenticeship students weekly in person labs in Billings.

"LBHC paid for my classes. Just like with anything though, you have to buy your own tools. I had to get a good vehicle to be able to drive out of Crow, I live in Crow and I drive up here to Billings everyday,” Martin said.

Martin put his all into the program, hitting the books and putting the hours in. He even landed a position with Mountain Electric in Billings.

“I think this is a really good thing for Little Big Horn as well as the tribal community. Larry has been a really good representative of what he and his people have to offer,” said Kris Rivers, the president of Mountain Electric.

Rivers said apprentices like Martin are needed now more than ever.

“After COVID, we had a lot of the 58 to 65-year-old experienced journeymen that wanted to retire. And after they left the workforce, we had a hard time replenishing with any apprentices,” Rivers said.

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Martin exceeded all expectations and has completed 7,000 hours to be able to test for his journeyman license exam early. After he tests, he might share his knowledge.

“I could go to Little Big Horn and instead of having those kids drive up here to Billings for the classes, I could be teaching those classes over at Little Big Horn College,” Martin said.

He also has the option of staying with Mountain Electric, a company that's welcomed him with open arms.

“I’m very proud of the fact that he’s gotten through it faster than the time allotted for the apprenticeship. It really speaks to who he is as a person and an employee for Mountain Electric,” said Rivers.

Martin said that everything he's done has been for his eight-year-old son, Tristan.

“It’s just a great feeling to be able to go home and provide for my son. It’s a feel good job,” Martin said.