Vail Valley interest building in new CareerWise apprenticeship program |

Vail Valley interest building in new CareerWise apprenticeship program

Silhouette cutouts of a man walking up steps, while the hand of other businessman building stairs for him in a conceptual image of personal and career promotion.
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Five facts

What: CareerWise Colorado.

Local organizer: Vail Valley Partnership.

Number of first-year businesses: Five.

Number of first-year apprentices: Up to nine.

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EDWARDS — A new apprenticeship program in Colorado hasn’t graduated its first participants yet, but interest is building.

That interest was apparent at a Monday, May 14, meeting hosted by state and local representatives of CareerWise Colorado. The program, modeled after apprenticeship programs in Switzerland and Germany, takes students starting in 11th grade and then combines job training and education to set those students on a career path. In Switzerland, as many as 70 percent of all high school students participate in some kind of apprenticeship program.

The program in Colorado, and in the Vail Valley, is off to a slow but steady start.

In the local program, five businesses — Vail Resorts, Alpine Bank, RA Nelson, the Gallegos Corp. and Can Do Multiple Sclerosis — will hire as many as nine apprentices, all of whom will start work this summer. Six of those apprentices have been hired, and interviews are still being conducted with other applicants.

In the first year, students will work about 16 hours per week and take classes the rest of the week. The work/school balance shifts during the three-year program. Students take classes in their chosen fields at Colorado Mountain College. The program is designed to extend apprentices’ public-school experience into a 13th year, dedicated to both work and professional development courses through Colorado Mountain College.

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Eric Williams, who’s coordinating the program through the Vail Valley Partnership, said the idea in the first years is to start small and grow gradually. That way, both businesses and students can get an idea of what’s expected and what’s to come.

In addition to the first-year businesses, Williams told Monday’s group that he expects to add five more businesses — give or take — for the second year of the program.

That number could be four or six new businesses, Williams said. But the idea is to grow slowly to ensure long-term success.

Careers, not just jobs

The idea of apprenticeships aimed at creating careers, not just jobs, is a new concept in this country. So is the idea that potential apprentices will have to compete for the few available positions.

Gallegos CEO Gary Woodworth said that firm has already hired one apprentice from a group of five applicants. Interviews are being conducted now for the second position.

Woodworth said that low number of applicants could be due to some “trepidation” on students’ parts about how the program will work.

On the business side, there seems to be a good bit of interest.

Ken Marchetti is principal of Marchetti & Weaver, a local accounting firm that does a lot of work for special districts.

Marchetti said his firm is always looking for people to fill both accounting and administrative roles. It’s a situation he expects to get worse, especially considering the valley’s high cost of living.

Trying to get people interested while they’re young and already living in the valley could benefit his business, Marchetti said.

Getting people while they’re young is a big deal.

Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer noted that when looking at local migration patterns, people between the ages of about 33 and 64 tend to leave the valley more than move here.

Filling the pipeline

Catching people young might help keep them into their peak earning years, or at least help businesses keep its employee pipeline running.

While CareerWise is working to grow in the Vail Valley, Monday’s lunch guests also included representatives from the Roaring Fork Valley.

Matt Hamilton works for Aspen Skiing Co. and also serves on the school board of the Roaring Fork School District. Hamilton came to the lunch meeting with Glenwood Springs High School Principal Paul Freeman.

Hamilton said the CareerWise program could be “more engaging” for students, while providing participants with more “real world” skills.

Amanda Spannagel helps run Eagle County Schools’ Career X program, which focuses on job-shadowing and internships. Spannagel said there are currently 179 district students in various internship programs. CareerWise is seen as an addition to Career X, Spannagel said, mainly because participants end up in real jobs.

While CareerWise is still in its early stages across the state, Brad Rivera, of CareerWise, said early signs are positive.

“Anecdotally, students are advancing faster than we thought they would,” Rivera said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 and

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