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First apprentice receives brewer credential through apprenticeship program

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HELENA – Montana Department of Labor and Industry officials on Dec. 20 awarded a certified national credential to Nicholas Balcken, the first apprentice to complete the Professional Brewer Apprenticeship Program in Montana.

“Apprenticeship continues to provide the opportunities Montana’s workers need to succeed and have meaningful careers,” Lt. Governor Mike Cooney said. “We are continuing to reach out to new sponsors in a variety of new career fields beyond the trades to build tomorrow’s workforce today.”

Through DLI’s Registered Apprenticeship program, Blackfoot River Brewing Company is offering its workers a new pathway to becoming a professional brewer. An apprentice will receive two to three years of hands-on learning in the brewery and complete approximately 140 hours of online courses through the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.

The launch of this apprenticeship program marks the first time DLI’s Incumbent Worker Training Program and Registered Apprenticeship Program partnered to support a Montana business. Blackfoot River Brewing Company applied and received funding from the Incumbent Worker Training Program to help offset the cost of additional educational opportunities for their apprentice. 

“This program has given me the motivation to gain industry certification and education. I think it is really beneficial and I hope to stay at Blackfoot for the rest of my career,” Balcken said. “Now we have a way to train someone to work toward the credentials they need while working on the job, just like I did. I hope ten years down the road this sets the apprenticeship standard across the board for Montana’s breweries.”

Montana’s Nicholas Balcken accepts his certificate after completing the Professional Brewer Apprenticeship Program. PHOTO COURTESY OF MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY

Breweries are an influential component of Montana’s economy, with 11.4 breweries per capita, ranking 2nd in the nation.

“It’s a big booming grassroots industry in this state that employs a lot of people,” said Tim Chisman, head brewer and production manager at Blackfoot River Brewing Company. “We would love to see other breweries jump on this to help us make it a better apprenticeship program. It’s just going to continue to help the state of Montana be in the forefront of amazing beer.”

The Montana Registered Apprenticeship program is currently working to foster new partnerships to expand and diversify into new occupation fields, including at Montana breweries. The number of sponsors continues to grow as Montana businesses respond to the increasing demand for workers. Sponsorship has grown by approximately nine percent each year over the last three years.

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