Local businesses should seize this opportunity

The idea isn’t new, but establishing apprenticeships as the foundation for economic growth and better educational outcomes finally has some serious clout behind it.

Earlier this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a new $11 million statewide apprenticeship system for high school students, largely funded by philanthropic organizations.

The announcement capped an effort already underway to duplicate Switzerland’s highly successful vocational education and training system. Earlier this year, Colorado sent a delegation of its leaders in education, business, government, workforce development and nonprofits to Zurich to hear first-hand from business executives how the program works and why it’s a cultural cornerstone of Swiss prosperity.

Creating a Swiss-style model for Colorado is the mission of CareerWise Colorado, which is moving quickly to recruit employers to see the benefits of apprenticeships.

School District 51 is fortunate to be among the first wave of schools involved in the pilot. CareerWise Colorado is looking to place 35 Mesa County students in apprenticeships at local businesses starting in fall 2017.

The goal is to expand CareerWise across the state, so that 20,000 high school students are working in apprenticeships in the next 10 years.

School districts have long sought to expand career pathways for high school graduates beyond the perceived binary system in place. Too often the choice seems to be an expensive college education or a minimum-wage future. School District 51 already has options for career technical education, including the Career Center and concurrent enrollment in programs at Western Colorado Community College.

The missing piece has been buy-in from the business community. European models succeed because businesses see apprenticeships as a valuable investment in productivity and procuring talent. Switzerland’s largest telecom company, for example, has 8,000 employees and 800 are apprentices.

“The model won’t work unless businesses engage in a material way,” said Noel Ginsburg, the CareerWise CEO said Tuesday during a rollout of the program at the Mesa County Workforce Center. “I have no question that the schools around the state are going to play because they ... want better outcomes for their kids. But if businesses don’t view it in their self-interest to be a part of the education process, as our global competitors do, we’re only creating problems for ourselves.”

Students in their last two years of high school will be able to get paid, hands-on training in skilled fields, including information technology, financial services, advanced manufacturing and hospitality. An additional year of apprenticeship post-graduation will will further prepare students to enter the workforce directly or continue their post-secondary education.

This is a wonderful, overdue development that can pay dividends to all stakeholders. It’s a cultural shift that we hope Mesa County business leaders will get behind.


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