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Colorado students, companies say apprenticeships are a win-win

Apprenticeships offer alternative to college debt
Posted at 12:23 PM, Oct 23, 2019

High school graduate Riley Becker is only 18, but she is already well on her way to a career in the insurance industry.

She’s one of 23 apprentices at workers compensation company Pinnacol Assurance.

Becker started the internship when she was a junior at Denver School of Innovation and Sustainable Design. It’s one of many schools in the Denver metro area that partners with CareerWise Colorado to offer apprenticeships to students.

“The idea is: Get kids out of high school classrooms for part of the day and into the workplace where they can develop real workplace skills that will benefit them in their career and solve true talent pipeline needs for companies,” said Meaghan Sullivan, a program coordinator with CareerWise Colorado.

Axyl Shores was an apprentice up until a month ago, when he was hired on full-time at Pinnacol Assurance in the underwriting department. He decided to postpone college for the opportunity.

“As a full-time employee, I’m making $19.30 an hour, right out of high school,” he said.

Pinnacol and other companies also offer incentives for apprentices like tuition reimbursement if they decide to eventually go to college.

It’s not just about the money, though.

Apprentices say they’re getting hands-on experience and a chance to figure out what they want to do in their careers.

“Originally, I was interested in software development, and so they started training me here on coding, and I found out I really did not like it,” said Riley Becker, another apprentice.

Apprenticeships are already a common pathway to a career in other countries and are gaining more popularity in the United States. They’re not only beneficial for students, but for companies dealing with a skills gap in the current workforce.

CareerWise Colorado said industries like technology, financial services and health care are struggling to find skilled workers. Pinnacol Assurance agreed that getting students in the door as apprentices makes a lot of sense.

“About half of the insurance agency will be retiring in the next 10 years,” said Mark Tapy, apprenticeship program manager for Pinnacol Assurance. “We realize that the marketplace for jobs in business and technology is competitive, and those are the types of skilled staff members we’re going to need."

Pinnacol Assurance says the apprenticeship program is a big investment, so after they train these young workers, the goal is to keep them.

Apprentice-turned-employee Fatima Amador said she would definitely like to stay.

“Right now, I’m in a position where I can grow, and five to 10 years from now — I can become a director, and then maybe one day I’ll become the CEO,” she said.