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Tohono O'odham Nation, Rural Areas Face Obstacles To Filling Apprenticeships

Nearly 45% of Tohono O’odham Nation residents live in poverty. Only 20% have internet access. Even basic electricity is scarce across the reservation. These economic conditions present major challenges to learning and access to job training.

Driving distance to get to and from work is one of the biggest challenges of all, according to Zach Boren with the Urban Institute.

"The reservation is spread wide and thin with only a few working cars. And that car that someone may be picked up in to get to that job site, that may be a reservation car," Boren said.

The Urban Institute just released a study on youth apprenticeship programs, including one at the Tohono O'odham Community College in Sells. It finds the pool of prime-age workers is declining in rural areas while increasing in urban and suburban areas.

“It’s really preparing someone for an entry level position that makes apprenticeship different. It’s an actual job that’s available. So you’re getting paid while you learn that particular occupation,” Boren said.

The Tohono O’odham Nation occupies nearly 3 million acres along Arizona’s southern border, making it the third-largest reservation in the United States. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that 92% of apprentices who complete a program retain their jobs.

Heather van Blokland was a host at KJZZ from 2016 to 2021.