Eagle County CareerWise program aims to help ‘home-grow’ locals workers, leaders | VailDaily.com

Eagle County CareerWise program aims to help ‘home-grow’ locals workers, leaders

EAGLE COUNTY — Local businesses often look for ways to bring new people into its organizations. A new business/education partnership may help those efforts.

CareerWise Colorado, a Front Range-based nonprofit group, announced earlier this year that Eagle County would be the first rural area in the state to participate in the group's apprenticeship program.

The idea for the apprenticeships is ambitious. Starting in high school students' junior year, a three-year program will combine classroom work with practical experience and training. Participating businesses pay a small fee to the program, and apprentices are paid. Eagle County Schools and Colorado Mountain College have worked on programs that will allow students to continue essentially tuition-free in the year after high school.

Classroom work, both in high school and at Colorado Mountain College, will provide technical knowledge. Working at businesses can provide students with "soft skills" that only come from working for, and listening to, a boss in a workplace.

Colorado Mountain College Vice President and Edwards Campus Dean Kathryn Regjo said skills from answering phones to customer service to simply interacting with co-workers, bosses and the public aren't found in textbooks.

Through a combination of classroom work and real-life experience, apprentices will be more ready to succeed in the world of work, she added.

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Regjo also noted that the CareerWise program is a way for area businesses to "home-grow" at least part of its workforce.

Starting small

The first program, set to begin in the 2018-19 school year, will start small — 15 to 17 students working at five participating businesses. But there are plans to grow the program over time.

"A resounding success for us in 20 years is to have 20 percent of students take advantage of this," said Erik Williams, who's coordinating the program for the Vail Valley Partnership.

Williams added that as the price keeps rising for a four-year college degree, there's increasing demand for education and training that will place trained young adults into the workforce.

That's a growing need for younger workers in this country, especially in the skilled trades. Williams said the country could lose 60 percent of its trade-based labor force in the next decade, as members of the baby-boomer generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — leave the workforce.

The CareerWise program is based on a Swiss model, one that Williams said has been effective.

"We watched 16-year-olds doing mortgages for people," Williams said, adding that young people "have so much more to give than we allow them to do."

While the Swiss model won't translate entirely to this country, Williams said CareerWise is still working to find elements of it that will work here.

Hiring is evolving

Alpine Bank Regional Vice President Michael Brown said he's excited about participating in the CareerWise program.

Brown said the way the bank has hired employees has evolved over the years, from seeking out people who have moved to the mountains to looking for people who have grown up here and might want to build a career.

"We want people (with local roots) to think about a career here," Brown said, adding that CareerWise represents a good first step in building on that idea.

Brown is a member of the Vail Valley Partnership Board of Governors, so he was also involved in the bid process to bring the program to Eagle County.

The bid process showed a lot of cooperation and vision from Eagle County Schools and Colorado Mountain College, he said. But there was also a great deal of interest from the business community.

Letters of support came in from far more businesses than just the five participating in the first year, Brown said.

While the program won't begin in full until next year, Brown said he expects to start seeing benefits from CareerWise in a matter of a few months, if for no other reason than the growing enthusiasm for the program.

There's a lot to do before the program's first apprentices show up for their jobs, Brown said. There's finalizing the program, selecting apprentices and determining just how to combine work and study.

When it's in place, though, Brown said he expects good things to happen.

"This is much needed," he said. "This is a great opportunity to home-grow our next generation of leaders."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

Who’s involved?

A lot of organizations and businesses are involved in the new CareerWise program. Here’s an incomplete list:

• Eagle County Schools

• Colorado Mountain College

• Vail Valley Partnership

• Alpine Bank

• The Gallegos Corp.

• Vail Health

• Vail Resorts

• East West Destination Hospitality

To learn more about CareerWise Colorado, go to http://www.careerwise.org.