Gov. Jared Polis declared November Apprenticeship Month in recognition of the role such programs play in supporting economic recovery and moving forward in the time of COVID-19.
“As we work on Colorado’s economic recovery, apprenticeships can help workers of all ages and backgrounds gain in-demand skills while also earning a paycheck,” Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, stated in a news release.
The estimated social benefits of such programs include increased productivity of workers trained through an apprenticeship, as well as reduced use of unemployment insurance, welfare and food stamps over a person’s career given substantially higher earnings, according to a 2012 cost-benefit analysis of registered apprenticeships by Mathematica Policy Research.
There also is a significant body of research that shows apprenticeships provide significant benefits to businesses and employers, including a return on investment of $1.46 for every $1 invested and an 89% three-year retention rate for post-apprenticeship employees.
To harness the power of apprenticeships, the state labor department has partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor, state and local agencies and workforce organizations to create more than 200 registered apprenticeship programs across the state and engage over 6,000 apprentices, according to the website.
One such local partner is St. Vrain Valley School District.
SVVSD for the past couple of years has been building and offering an apprenticeship program in partnership with CareerWise Colorado, according to Buck Webber, assistant principal at the SVVSD Career Development Center.
CareerWise is a Denver-based nonprofit connecting students with applied-learning environments and employers to talent modeled after the Swiss approach to apprenticeships, according to its website.
“CareerWise approached us a year ago, we are in the second year of development,” Webber said. “The apprenticeship model really is for those students who have decided on a pathway and need a bridge in experience. They are more committed to that pathway.”
Students who are admitted to the three-year program start as juniors in high school, finishing their last year after high school, Webber said.
“Students work 16 to 20 hours a week on top of their regular schedule and bump their hours up to 20 to 30 hours as seniors,” he said, adding some students also work toward earning concurrent college credits.
“They will have multiple stackable certifications and credentials earned along the way, with three years of documented work experience,” Webber said.
Priscilla Vargas, a Longmont High School senior, is one of those students. She has been enrolled in the CareerWise apprenticeship program since summer 2019, working at Lexmark International, a printer and toner manufacturer.
“When I was applying, it was not something I had ever heard of. It was an opportunity I never thought of as an option,” she said, adding that when she understood what the program entailed she “couldn’t let it pass.”
Vargas has been learning hands-on about the manufacturing industry supply chain.
“For me, this opened another door of interest for career pathways,” she said. “You see the printers and toners but don't really see beyond that. … I found a love for it in a sense, I didn't know I was going to like it.”
Although her program has moved to remote work because of the pandemic, it still has been a good experience, Vargas said, adding she has received a logistics technician certification from Front Range Community College in the process.
“The certification helps with everything, it helps really hone in on our skills,” she said. “The (employer) pays for it and I get something I will have for the rest of my life.”
While she is thankful for the educational gains, Vargas said the program also represents a chance to make financial strides as well.
As a minority student, financially speaking, this opens a lot of doors for me,” she said. “College is not affordable, it’s incredibly expensive, (this program) opens doors for me that wouldn’t be open otherwise for me to define where I want to go.”
Erika Germer, K12 partnerships manager at CareerWise Colorado, recognizes apprenticeships are an unfamiliar concept for all families, but that is especially true in the Hispanic community.
“In many ways, families think college is the only answer for their child to be successful,” she said. “(These programs) are not to divert students from that goal but a great way to explore a possible career.”
CareerWise brands itself as a modern youth apprenticeship program that seeks to go beyond advanced manufacturing and include other career paths such as finance, information technology, business operations, health care and education, Germer said.
Up until recently, the U.S. has relied almost entirely on schools to prepare students for the workforce, which is not enough, she said.
“Employers complain or worry students applying for jobs are not ready to step into the role,” she said. “Apprenticeship serves as a runway or onramp for students to decide what they want to do … internally we refer to it as an options multiplier. You’re not ruling anything out, instead, you’re increasing the number of options you’re going to have after high school graduation.”
Over the course of the program, enrolled students can earn up to $40,000 or $50,000, Germer said.
“This is not just a job at a Target or a fast-food restaurant. They are making significant money to help their families, to support their own dreams,” she said.
Area employers that have partnered with CareerWise include the Bank of Colorado Longmont branch, Lexmark, Rupes in Louisville and Excelitas/REO in Boulder, Germer said, adding additional employer partners are being sought for the spring 2021 hiring cycle.
The spring program will launch in January and the next round of applications will start in February for the summer program.For more information on available apprenticeship opportunities at CareerWise, click here.