Experiencing Futures as Apprentices in Denver

Type: Article
Topics: College- Career- and Life-Readiness, School Administrator Magazine

August 01, 2018

Students in Denver’s School of Innovation and Sustainable Design were apprentices at Pinnacol Assurance, learning from the communications and events team and the salesforce and contracts team.
Students in Denver’s School of Innovation and Sustainable Design were apprentices at Pinnacol Assurance, learning from the communications and events team and the salesforce and contracts team.
As a high school freshman, Juan Carlos didn’t know if he would ever be ready for college. After all, no one in his family had ever gone to college, and he didn’t know what to expect.

He was curious, however, and in his junior year, Carlos applied for the Denver Public Schools apprenticeship program as a way to try out college courses while gaining work experience in advanced manufacturing at a Denver-based metal cutting company. This experience has opened new vistas for him and college seems like a real possibility.

Seeing and Being
Celebrated for its diversity and inclusiveness, Denver Public Schools enrolls more than 92,000 students from wide-ranging backgrounds. They come to us with different ideas of what success looks like, and we work toward showing them all possible paths to achieving their goals.

Students “can’t be what they can’t see,” and in DPS, we believe it’s our job to expose them to as many career opportunities as possible, as early as possible so they can start making informed decisions while supports are in place. One way we do this is through CareerResidency, an apprenticeship program that gives them the opportunity to earn college credits while they are in high school, gain valuable work experience and “test drive” a possible career.

Entering as high school juniors or seniors, students commit to a three-year program in which they take high school and college-level courses three days a week and work for two days in high-demand job fields such as advanced manufacturing, business, health care and technology. The district covers the cost of college courses with the stipulation that students must reimburse the district for courses they don’t pass.

CareerWise Colorado, a nonprofit organization that organizes and implements the statewide apprenticeship system, recruits employers and serves as a bridge between the district and the businesses. DPS students are employed at 16 business partners.

Employers participate for two primary reasons: (1) they need to fill a position and apprentices are a cost-effective means to develop the talent in-house; and (2) they see this program as a way to support their future workforce needs while investing in the community.

Students apply to the participating companies and undergo an interview process. The companies select apprentices who are the best fit, providing them with on-the-job training and wages for hours worked. Students leave the program with a high school diploma, professional skills, work experience and industry certificates to take to a competitive job market, as well as up to 60 college credits toward a postsecondary degree.

Surmounting Barriers
The CareerResidency program is starting its second year. As with any new initiative, our six pilot schools have faced challenges in managing the apprenticeship program.

Scheduling is one such challenge. Having students spend about half their time on the job and commuting to and from work means they must plan their schedules carefully. To help, we’re moving away from the traditional approach of separate subjects and integrating them so they are relevant for the particular career fields students are interested in exploring.

Mindset is another challenge. An apprenticeship is a three-year commitment. Students entering as juniors can expect to graduate in year 13 and entering seniors in year 14. Despite access to free college classes and on-the-job training, staying an extra year (or more) is outside of the cultural norm, so students must decide what makes the most sense for their personal goals.

Extending Reach
CareerResidency has helped us break down financial barriers and provide innovative pathways for students like Juan Carlos while creating a highly skilled and educated workforce that meets the complex demands of Colorado companies. It has been truly trans-formative for us. In its first year, 45 students participated, and we’re expecting more as we expand the apprenticeship program.

Additional Information

Denver Public Schools introduced the concept of multiple, permeable pathways as an integral component of the district’s college and career readiness strategy. The goal is to give students many choices along the journey to graduation and beyond, while providing on- and off-ramps for when they want to explore other options.
More details are available at https://collegeandcareer.dpsk12.org.