New apprenticeship program prepares students for college or career

CareerWise Colorado launches first year of program

DENVER -- When you go to the website for the Golden, Colorado-based company "HomeAdvisor", you'd probably never guess that there's a 16 year old high school student doing the coding on the other end.

Colin Dean is a junior at Stem School in Highlands Ranch, but he’s already working in the information technology field as an apprentice at HomeAdvisor.

"I’m really interested in getting a job in the tech field," Dean said.

The non-profit CareerWise Colorado just launched its first cohort of 116 high school apprentices. They're all splitting their time between high school classes and paid apprenticeships at Colorado companies. The jobs are in five growing industries: information technology, finance, business operations, advanced manufacturing and health care.

"We’ve aimed at positions that you can get into and be successful and earn a  living wage without a 4 year degree, as a starting point," said CareerWise President Gretchen Morgan.

It’s a new way of thinking about higher education that's skill-specific, as opposed to degree-specific. CareerWise actually started by going to businesses and asking what kind of workers they need. They found out plenty of Colorado companies see the value in hiring teen apprentices.

"If we can train them from the ground up we’re not only going to fill our hiring needs, and our staffing needs, but we’ll also be able to put people back into the economy," said Tanya Jones, who recruits talent for HomeAdvisor.

The director of higher education for the state, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, said programs like CareerWise will be critical in developing our future workforce.

"What we know is that every student needs a credential value beyond high school. It doesn't have to be a four-year [degree] but it cannot be just a high school diploma. Nationally when you look at jobs created since the recession, 11.5 of the 11.6 million jobs created went to individuals with something beyond high school."

CareerWise says its students will have multiple options.  Some apprentices may go straight into the workforce. Colin says he’ll probably go on to a four year college to study computer science. CareerWise apprentices earn college credit during the program, and could leave high school with an enough credits for an associate's degree. 

Careerwise currently has 116 apprentices working with 40 business partners. They are in five school districts, including Denver Public Schools, Cherry Creek and JeffCo. The goal is to have 20,000 apprentices in 10 years.

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