Drug counselor apprenticeship program launches, with BOLI support

By COLIN STAUB

United We Heal Training Trust has launched its second apprenticeship program for behavioral health workers who want to increase their skill level. The new program helps workers become Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors (CADC).

United We Heal Training Trust is a program jointly administered by Oregon AFSCME and participating union employers in the behavioral health field, including Mid-Columbia Center for Living, Clatsop Behavioral Health, and Cascadia Health. Participating employers (known as “training agents”) provide on-the-job training and classroom education to employees enrolled in the training program—at no cost. 

The trust launched its first apprenticeship program last year, helping workers get Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) certification. After their training, workers take a test administered by the Mental Health and Addiction Certification Board of Oregon (MHACBO).

The new Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors program will operate similarly. Certified alcohol and drug counselors provide a number of services that are part of substance abuse treatment, including assessing new patients and counseling.

The apprenticeship could help address what Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) says is a shortage of 2,000 certified alcohol and drug counselors in the state. That’s on top of a shortage of 17,700 qualified mental health associate positions in Oregon, according to OHSU.

AFSCME announced the CADC program in a Nov. 15 event during National Apprenticeship Week. 

“By providing training opportunities, we’re bringing more qualified counselors into the workforce to fill open positions and decrease the stress on our behavioral health workforce,” said Haley Coupe, CADC apprenticeship program manager for United We Heal.

United We Heal received $233,000 from the Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) to administer the CADC apprenticeship, while the QMHA program is receiving federal funding from the Department of Labor (U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader of Oregon requested a total of $1.8 million for the program in the 2023 budget, which is still under consideration by Congress).

Christina Stephenson, Oregon’s labor commissioner-elect, says she sees the potential for programs like United We Heal to bring paid job training beyond the construction trades into other fields.

“I personally love the apprenticeship model. Earn while you learn, it makes it so much more accessible and helps us diversify our workforces,” Stephenson said during the Nov. 15 event.

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