Vail area businesses look to hire high school students through apprenticeship program
Representatives from over 50 local businesses attend the Careerwise Apprenticeship Luncheon on Tuesday
The traditional career path for skilled employment has long required a college degree, but with skyrocketing tuition costs and businesses seeking increasingly specialized skill sets, both students and employers are in need of an alternative system.
That is where the Careerwise Modern Apprenticeship Program comes in. Careerwise is a nonprofit organization in Colorado that works with businesses and school systems to create apprenticeship programs for high school students. The new model offers high school juniors the opportunity to apply for a two-year apprenticeship with a local business that begins their senior year with a blended work-study program. Following graduation, the student then works as a full-time employee at the company to complete their apprenticeship, while having the option to take additional courses and certification programs at community college to further advance their career.
First rural apprenticeship program in the state
The Careerwise apprenticeship model was originally designed for urban communities, but in 2018 Eagle County became the first rural community in the state to implement the system. Under the leadership of Vail Valley Partnership, participation has grown from five apprentices at four employers in its first year to 11 apprentices at 10 employers in 2021. A high turnout of over 50 interested businesses at the Careerwise Apprenticeship Luncheon on Tuesday signals the potential for significant growth to the program this upcoming year.
The list of employers for the 2022 recruitment season will be solidified in December, and student recruitment begins in January. Throughout the spring, students will go through an interview process that will place them at a company that matches their strengths and interests, and they will begin their two-year apprenticeship in June 2022.
Christy Beidl is the customer success manager for Careerwise in Eagle County, and it is her job to help match businesses to the young talent that is available in the valley. Beidl worked as a high school and middle school science teacher for 15 years, and she has seen firsthand that the traditional schooling path is not for everyone, and a four-year college degree is unnecessary for many career paths.
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“We are trying to build the apprenticeship certification to mean just as much, if not more, than that college degree,” Beidl said. “Think about it — you have a student that spends $100 to $200 thousand on college, sits in a classroom, does a great job and gets A’s, all that good stuff. Then you have another student that goes through the two-year apprenticeship program, learning actual real-life skills: knows how to email, knows how to run a business meeting, knows how to manage employees — does the college kid know how to do that? As a business, when you’re hiring, which one are you going to want to hire: the kid who sat in a classroom or the kid who has actually been in the action and learned firsthand what it takes to run a business and do the job that they’re supposed to do?”
Not only do the students receive on-the-job training through the apprenticeship program, but they are also compensated for their work. While payment rates vary from business to business, the average student earns around $40,000 by the end of their apprenticeship.
“The area that we are focusing on now is recruiting students, changing the mentality around apprenticeships and showing them what an amazing opportunity this is,” Beidl said. “We come from a generation where you are so focused on that college degree — which yes, some professions you cannot get further without that college degree — but an apprenticeship is just as valuable in these professions that you don’t need a four-year college degree for.”
Angel Munoz is the executive chef at the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa in Avon, and this past year he hired his first high school apprentice through the Careerwise program.
“She has been phenomenal,” Munoz said. “She wants to gain a better understanding of the whole operation, because she told me that she wants to open her own restaurant one day.”
In the three months that she has been apprenticing at the Westin, the student has learned the ins and outs of a working kitchen and is directly contributing to the success of the restaurant.
“We started by helping her learn the basics of the kitchen, introducing her to the main kitchen space, what we store and how we store it,” Munoz said. “Now that she’s already learned that, she is helping us prepare the food, plating canapes and actually plating the main dishes for the banquets. Something that I really like about this program, and something that she brought to us, is the awareness of ourselves as teachers and mentors to her. It’s like, let me teach you how to do it right and let’s perfect the skills, and then we decide on something else. She brought that self-awareness of being a mentor and teacher to someone, not just being the boss.”
Like many local businesses, Munoz’ staff took a serious hit during the pandemic, and the apprenticeship program helped him to recruit talent that is already in the valley. On Tuesday, Munoz was in the audience at the luncheon, learning how to add more apprentices to his staff next year.
“The apprenticeship program has really helped us understand that there are people within the valley who want to stay here, and want to learn, and want to work here,” Munoz said. “Most of the staff we bring from other states and other countries, so when we don’t have (J-1 visas) coming in, like what happened last year, I wish I could have more people from the apprenticeship program working with us. Now, we’re starting to go back to the J-1 program and H-2B visas, but at the same time, we have the apprenticeship program which is going to help us complement the whole team.”
Apprentices in all industries
Participating employers cover a wide range of industries, including hospitality, health care, manufacturing, finance, education and much more, and the opportunities are growing each year. The program is designed to be mutually beneficial for students and employers, who can train their apprentices from the ground up to develop the specialized skills of their particular company.
Beidl made it clear that the apprenticeship certificate does not exist in opposition to a college degree, and can actually be used as a powerful complement to pursuing a more advanced course of study. She spoke of one example where a student apprenticed with a construction company, and after completing his apprenticeship received a full college scholarship to pursue a degree in architecture.
“You’re gaining all the experience that’s going to give you that foundation to decide, ‘OK, where do I go next,'” Beidl said. “So if you do decide to go to college, it’s that much better of a decision for you, or when you decide not to go to college and go into this job full-time from your apprenticeship, you know that is a decision that really makes sense for you.”
Businesses that are interested in participating in the apprenticeship program are invited to reach out to Beidl at email@example.com. A full recording of the luncheon presentation will be made available on the CareerWise Eagle County website.