Eagle County students’ workplace learning experiences catch the attention of Sen. Hickenlooper
Students urged the senator to grow apprenticeship, other workplace-learning programs at a meeting Tuesday
EDWARDS — Several weeks ago, Eagle Valley High School student Eve Zaruba sent a video to several United States Senators inviting them to see how Eagle County is preparing students for their careers through workplace studies. And only one answered the (video) call.
Sen. John Hickenlooper joined a variety of Eagle County students, business representatives and community leaders on Tuesday afternoon at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards. The group gathered to listen to students share their experiences with the county’s many career readiness programs.
This group included representatives from Eagle County School District, YouthPower365, Vail Valley Partnership, Gallegos Corporation and Schaeffer Hyde Construction — all of which have been involved in helping students discover and explore different career opportunities through CareerX, CareerWise or other readiness programming.
Erik Williams, the director of community development for the Vail Valley Partnership, started off the event by highlighting the importance of work-based learning. The Eagle Valley community, he said, has a “severe need.”
“As you know, America sends their best and brightest to become ski bums in the mountains of Colorado. So we get all these entry-level workers and then our valley demographics tell us that we have a large out-valley migration from ages 31 to 65. That affects our business community very strongly,” Williams said. “We know that our greatest resource in this valley is — and I believe this very strongly — is sitting at this table, the youth that are here. And we think this is the next pipeline that we need to move forward.”
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Last October, YouthPower365, Eagle County Schools and Vail Valley Partnership were awarded with just under $1 million to help continue growing its career readiness programs. These programs help students gain workplace experience, get industry certifications, earn workplace certifications and find apprenticeships.
These programs, Williams said, offer insight for students to discover not only what they want to do, but also what they don’t want to do.
Hickenlooper emphasized the importance of such career exploration and learning as he introduced himself to the group as a “former geologist, bartender, brewer, mayor, governor and senator.”
“I am a walking case study in why you need to keep learning skills your whole life,” he said.
Discovering passions, careers
While the Eagle County School District, YouthPower365 and Vail Valley Partnership have partnered on many of these programs, the group took time to acknowledge some of the specific successes each has had.
In recent years, one of the fastest growing programming areas of Vail Valley Foundation’s YouthPower365 has been its college and career readiness programming.
“We have really been working with all these partners here to develop programs that wrap around various other efforts in terms of workforce development. We have offered various clubs and helped with the certifications and other supports for students,” said Sara Amberg, the executive director for YouthPower365.
The organization started a young health professionals club this year to introduce students to career opportunities in health care. Battle Mountain High School student Ella Salamone attended every session.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Salamone recounted the many opportunities the club had afforded her from getting to visit Vail Health’s birth and delivery and NICU wings to visiting a cadaver lab in Colorado Springs and seeing how Vail Health staff prepare an operating room for surgery.
“Before I started the club I was just more curious about the medical field, not really set in stone about anything. But afterward, I want to be a trauma nurse,” Salamone said.
Helping students discover what they want to do through hands-on experiences is a common thread through all of these career readiness programs in the county.
“We help students with a lot of hands-on experiences to help them figure out what they want to continue with when they go to college or go straight into a career,” said Ellen Sirico-Filmore.
Sirico-Filmore helps run the CareerX program within Eagle County Schools. The program offers students hands-on workplace experiences, internship opportunities with local businesses, onsite job shadows, an interactive career fair, mock job and scholarship interviews, and more.
According to Sirico-Filmore, the district has brought in local professionals — including a crime scene investigator, a cosmetologist, nonprofit founders and more — to give students a chance to see multiple possibilities and paths.
For recent Eagle Valley High School graduate Maverick Moyer, these CareerX experiences were “life-changing” because it helped him decide what he wanted to do in the next 10 years.
Moyer is planning to attend Diver’s Institute of Technology in Seattle to ultimately pursue a career in commercial diving and underwater welding. He was first exposed to welding through an on-site visit to Vail Honeywagon and then through an internship at Vail Valley Welding in EagleVail.
Other students at Tuesday’s meeting that spoke to the value of CareerX were Victoria Aragon, who credited her earning the prestigious Boettcher Scholarship in part to the mock interviews the program offered, as well as Alessandra Medrano, who has been able to “try out” various careers and job opportunities through the program’s various partnerships with local businesses and organizations.
These partnerships, Williams said, are what sets Eagle County’s career readiness programs apart from others in the state and county.
“What strikes me is the other piece that really sets us apart — besides (the students) — is the partnerships. We all work so closely together and we’re all so happy to work together,” Williams said. “It’s a nice place to grow programs.”
While this is seen in all the career readiness programs, the benefits of such partnerships are seen most wholly through the CareerWise program.
The power of apprenticeships
CareerWise is a modern apprenticeship program that was founded in Colorado in 2016. In fact, Hickenlooper played a critical role in the launch of the program.
In 2016, Hickenlooper was invited by the CareerWise founder Noel Ginsburg to go to Switzerland with 50 civic leaders and learn from their well-established youth apprenticeship program. Soon after, Hickenlooper, then the Colorado governor, helped usher in $11 million to fund a statewide apprenticeship system for students. On Tuesday, Hickenlooper referred to himself as a “minion for (Ginsburg’s) great idea.”
“I’m so impressed. If you had told me when Noel Ginsburg first came to my office in 2012 and told me he had this wild idea to take 50 civic leaders to Switzerland for a week … if you had ever told me we’d be sitting around in a group, here, in the Vail Valley, and hearing these stories of amazing kids who are just growing up so quickly and in such a healthy way, I just can’t tell you how proud I am,” Hickenlooper said.
In Eagle County, this apprenticeship program has seen a significant uptick in recent years.
“Here in Eagle County, we’ve seen exponential growth — last year we had signed on nine; this year, we signed on 22 apprentices, with 17 new businesses coming on to this apprenticeship opportunity and joining the CareerWise family,” said Christy Beidel, a workforce manager for the Vail Valley Partnership and customer success manager for the CareerWise apprenticeship program.
“It’s really becoming an integral part of the community, and everybody sees it as a valued experience — on both the business side as well as the student side. Businesses are really seeing it as that workforce pipeline for the future,” Beidel added.
Students can apply to participate in an apprenticeship during their junior year, starting the program the summer before their senior year and continue for two years. Students not only gain work experience, but also are paid and are sometimes eligible for high school credits.
The Avon-based Schaeffer Hyde Construction was one of the first businesses that signed on with CareerWise. The company’s president David Hyde said he got behind the program’s mission because it exposes students to construction and gives them an opportunity to have a career, earn a wage, stay in the valley and be on a path to grow and develop skill sets after the apprenticeship ends.
Brandon Sanchez was Schaeffer Hyde’s first apprentice — and part of the second class of apprentices in the local CareerWise program. It was through his three-year apprenticeship at the company that Sanchez discovered what career he wanted to pursue by getting to see the ins and outs of various sides of the business.
“I started getting into plans in the office, which got me interested in the architectural side of things,” he said. “It’s what I love to do, what I love to see. I’ve only seen a minuscule part of it and I’m already fully in love with it, so I can’t wait to see what’s next to come.”
Sanchez is currently pursuing his degree in architecture at the University of Colorado Boulder while working remotely for Schaeffer Hyde 10 hours a week.
Gallegos was another one of the first business participants in the program. Zaruba recently started her own apprenticeship at the business last week in addition to being a member of the CareerWise advisory board.
“This program has changed my outlook on life. I’m much more passionate about what I do now, I love what I do,” Zaruba said. “This just opens up the doors for people to know what’s going on and find what they love to do. And I’ve definitely found that.”
Tanya Rippeth, chief human resources officer at Gallegos Corporation, called Zaruba the company’s “next CareerWise success story.”
The impact of these programs on students was evident Tuesday afternoon. However, Hyde and Rippeth underscored the value that it also brings to businesses. Both business representatives mentioned that with the aging workforce in their respective industries, building pipelines through apprenticeships has become even more valuable.
“The youth has that enthusiasm that they bring to the dynamic of the workforce that is so invaluable. And they’re little sponges, wanting to learn everything,” Rippeth said.
Hickenlooper also acknowledged the rapidly changing economy, and the value of such career development programs within that.
“I am terrified at how fast the economy is changing and how many different skills you’re going to have to learn over the course of your whole life,” Hickenlooper said. “We can’t imagine some of the new jobs that are going to come, they don’t even exist yet, but we want to make sure that we’re ready for it.”
Having apprenticeships, he added, is one way to ensure that these skills transfer between generations and that mentors and mentees continue to learn from each other.
“It’s a great way for adults to build relationships with kids that aren’t necessarily their family in their community. I think that makes a community stronger, just in and of itself, when the kids get the benefits of this opportunity to learn in a workplace environment,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s also the mentorship, that relationship that is the muscle and sinew that makes strong, robust, durable, resilient communities.”
A challenge to the senator
The opportunities provided by these programs meant so much to Sanchez and Zaruba that they expressed desires to grow the program and inspire other students from Eagle County — and even the country — to pursue similar experiences.
“I know there are people out there that would love any of these experiences, any of these opportunities offered by any of our partners. They would love to get their hands in on this, because it’s something that really teaches you about life,” Zaruba said. “I’d love to spread this everywhere in the United States so everyone has this opportunity, so everyone can experience what it is to have this kind of passion.”
Sanchez said that he wanted CareerWise to become a household name so that more people could see and experience its value.
“I already have three years of meaningful construction work as an 18-year old, and I hope that’s the future of our generation,” Sanchez said. “That’s a challenge to you, senator; I want every kid in the United States to have the same opportunity as this. I feel like I’m a great example of what our generation is capable of and how smart and how much potential we have.”
Hickenlooper did note that he was working to find money on a national level to further fund CareerWise and give these opportunities to more and more students.
“There’s some key senators that we need to convince that this is magic, that this works, it’s consistent and it just needs a little funding,” Hickenlooper said. “Once these things get going, they don’t take a lot of federal funding … it’s pretty much self-perpetuating.”
And as far as Eagle County is considered, the community partners are dedicated to keeping the program growing.
“We were one of the first rural districts to make it work and we had to really adapt and pivot and change some things in order to make it work,” said Katie Jarnot, assistant superintendent of the Eagle County School District. “I keep thinking we’ve probably hit our max, we’ve probably saturated — and then the next year there’s more kids and more kids. I think there’s still room to grow in this valley as well.”