New Behavioral Health Apprenticeship Program Meets Urgent Need for Vital Services

Aug 4, 2022

Press Release
August 4, 2022

Mary Grace Antony, Director of Communications & Community Relations
Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium
| 425-919-7365


(Seattle, WA): This fall, the Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium (HCAC) is launching a new Behavioral Health Apprenticeship program to meet the urgent statewide need for vital behavioral healthcare services.

According to data from Mental Health America’s 2021 report, more than 22% of adults in Washington state reported having some kind of mental illness, and a quarter of them reported not being able to access behavioral health care.

The statewide and national behavioral healthcare crisis has accentuated the need for:

  • An adequate, qualified, committed, and skilled professional workforce: Behavioral health needs have skyrocketed as a result of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, and our healthcare systems are struggling to meet this demand. As a result, people are waiting too long to access services.
  • A diverse workforce: Many people don’t receive effective care from healthcare professionals who do not share or understand their life experiences, speak their language, or have contextual knowledge of their unique lived experiences.

The Behavioral Healthcare Apprenticeship program is a practical solution directly responding to these needs. This Washington state-registered apprenticeship program is building a pathway to increase the number of trained, skilled, and diverse professionals who will grow and stabilize the behavioral health workforce.

This innovative apprenticeship program combines flexible educational coursework requirements with supervised on-the-job training and provides financial incentives to employers that agree to early participation. It currently offers three career pathways:

  • Behavioral Health Technician: One-year program
  • Peer Counselor: One-year program
  • Substance Use Disorder Professional: Two-year program

“The need for behavioral health services has never been greater, but there is a severe shortage of qualified behavioral health professionals to meet that need,” says Dow Constantine, King County Executive. “These apprentices are the first cohort in a program to increase wages and train and retain new workers to care for our community. This innovative program will transform our community by expanding opportunities, particularly in communities of color. I’m grateful that King County was able to provide funding for this important project and pleased to partner with so many governments and organizations to make it possible.”

“The behavioral healthcare sector has an urgent need for more staff and this apprenticeship program is the workforce solution,” says Laura Hopkins, Executive Director, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Multi-Employer Training & Education Fund, which sponsors the HCAC. “Apprenticeships are an accessible pathway into healthcare because apprentices earn while they learn. And employers get a huge return on their investment, starting immediately and growing over time. We’re thrilled to work with our partners on this exciting program.”

“Recruiting is a constant challenge for community safety net agencies like Comprehensive Life Resources,” says Kim Zacher, CEO of Comprehensive Life Resources. “Behavioral Health apprenticeships would give us one more tool to build a behavioral health workforce that has been taken for granted and overlooked for too long. There are so many reasons that traditional college education, required for many behavioral health roles, may not be feasible for someone. A paid apprenticeship that combines on-the-job learning with relevant coursework opens the door for a more diverse group of people to enter the behavioral health field. We see a lot of opportunity within our own workforce and within our client base to take advantage of this program.”

“MERIT Resource Services is grateful for the opportunity to build our substance use disorder treatment workforce. We need licensed substance use disorder professionals and certified peer counselors to expand our great work with individuals and families experiencing alcohol and other drug problems. Providing individuals in substance use disorder treatment the recovery capital needed to gain remission and improve their quality of life is rewarding work,” says Shereen Hunt, Executive Director of MERIT Resource Services.

“The COVID pandemic has exposed the tremendous need for behavioral health services for our communities,” says Diane Sosne, former President, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. “The educational approach of this apprenticeship program meets the needs of all of our communities—including low income and communities of color. The ‘earn while you learn’ model provides a unique career pathway that enables caregivers to reflect the populations they serve and provide equitable access to meaningful work. We are proud to help launch our state’s innovative Behavioral Health Apprenticeship program.”

“Even before the pandemic, it was very clear that the workforce availability was declining. Then you add the pandemic and it becomes apparent that grassroot efforts are needed now more than even. This model allows members of BIPOC communities the opportunity to enter this industry, which is sometimes perceived as  unattainable and/or unaffordable. This program will open so many doors. It will allow us to better serve our communities,” says Charlotte Jones, VP and Chief People & Diversity Inclusion Officer, Sound Health.

“The lack of an adequate behavioral health workforce comes with significant consequences. It means people seeking behavioral health services cannot access the care they need when they need it,” says Melody McKee, Program Director for the Behavioral Health Training, Workforce and Policy Innovation Center at Harborview Medical Center – Behavioral Health Institute. “We can, and must, drive innovation that broadens the pathways into the behavioral health field. The apprenticeship program does that, and the ‘earn while you learn’ foundation of apprenticeships fosters equitable access into a profession that desperately needs more workers.”

Special thanks to the Ballmer Group and King County for their innovative and visionary support of this program, and to the UW Medicine – Harborview Behavioral Health Institute for their partnership on this project. The HCAC would also like to thank the following additional funders:

  • City of Seattle Office of Economic Development
  • King County
  • State of Washington Department of Labor & Industries
  • S. Department of Labor’s Healthcare Career Advancement Program Closing the Skills Gap Grant

This project is being supported, in whole or in part, by federal award number SLFRP0152, awarded to King County, Washington by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Learn more at


The Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium is a multi-union and multi-employer Washington State-registered Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee. We are open to all healthcare employers in Washington.

The Health Care Apprenticeship Consortium is sponsored by SEIU Healthcare 1199NW Multi-Employer Training and Education Fund. The Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee membership includes partners from healthcare employers, labor unions, and Washington State.

Our vision is to build a state-wide healthcare educational pathway through multiple apprenticeship opportunities, that is used by healthcare employers across the state and promotes accessibility, retention, and stability within the healthcare workforce.