CareerWise Colorado makes promising start

A statewide apprenticeship program always sounded good in theory for the opportunities it provides to young people. But getting it off the ground hinged on making employers understand that they stand to benefit as well.

Companies based in Mesa County are doing their part to learn how by putting the theory in practice. Eleven local companies have agreed to take on 14 local high school students for three-year apprenticeships through CareerWise, a new statewide program that seeks to replicate how Switzerland makes career training a part of the secondary education experience.

The word apprenticeship conjures up images of young men on a singular path of becoming pipefitters or electricians. Today’s apprenticeships are much more expansive, opening a world of opportunity rather than locking students into a narrow vocational field.

School District 51 was one of a handful of Colorado school districts selected to participate in the pilot phase and the only school district on the Western Slope. CareerWise integrates experiential-based learning into the district’s curriculum. Students learn workplace skills and gain a practical education. When students complete a CareerWise apprenticeship, they’ll have a variety of options, including continuing to a four-year university, entering the workforce or seeking specialized training.

European countries have done a much better job of creating multiple entry points into good-paying careers. The United States has emphasized a college education as the key to economic empowerment, but only one in three high school graduates will go on to earn a college degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

That contributes to a deleterious effect in Colorado. Seventy percent of Colorado adults are from somewhere else. They’re highly educated transplants who come here to fill a desperate need for talent among Colorado companies. Meanwhile, local youth face high unemployment rates.

Apprenticeships give youth job skills to fill positions for which companies spend mightily to recruit and train. The ability to fill employment gaps from within the community is especially important in places like Grand Junction where lack of skilled talent can be a barrier to long-term growth. That’s why we put so much energy into becoming an attractive place to live.

This program has massive potential to solve workforce issues and broaden opportunities for young people — thanks to the local companies who are willing to give it a try: Bank of Colorado, the city of Grand Junction, CoorsTek, DT Swiss, GPD Global, School District 51, Monument Health, Prostar Geocorp, Stonebridge and Western Colorado Community College are all training at least one high school senior and will continue to train them for the next three years.


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