One of the daunting challenges of today’s economy is the “skills gap”- that is the gap between what employers need or want in terms of the right training and skills to fill open positions and what skills potential employees actually have. A new public-private partnership initiative in Colorado aims to shrink that gap by moving teen workers into youth apprenticeships to gain the skills they need to compete in the 21st century job market.
CareerWise Colorado, a business-led partnership with Colorado public schools helps high school students gain valuable paid work experience in growth industries like information technology, finance and advanced manufacturing, while earning college credit toward a two-year degree.
The program, modeled on successful apprenticeship programs in Switzerland, places high school juniors in paid positions with participating employers, who commit to training the young workers over three years to prepare them for careers or continued education.
What makes the $11 million CareerWise Colorado different from other state workforce programs is its significant private sector backing. Financial industry leader JPMorgan Chase and the non-profit Bloomberg Philanthropies have invested a combined $9.5 million in the program.
“We have a moral responsibility to do what we can to give our young people the best chance to succeed after high school,” said Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO in a news release announcing the program. “Our investment in Denver’s youth will provide them with greater opportunities for meaningful employment and long-term economic success.”
U.S. policymakers and industry leaders have been looking more closely at Swiss apprenticeship models to better prepare young workers for adult careers. This model of vocational education and training, in which companies hire students to “learn while they earn,” is a case in point.
Such apprenticeships offer a deeper level of engagement and commitment between young workers and employers, compared to the internship model that’s been more common in the United States in recent decades. That stronger commitment may also lead to a more highly skilled workforce, some say.
“We need to unleash our capacity for stronger, broader long-term growth by ensuring all young people are given the opportunity to acquire the skills needed for their future success and to support the competitiveness of our industries,” said former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies. “To do this, businesses and educators must work together to ensure the skills being taught match those needed – not just for today’s workforce, but in the workforce of tomorrow. That’s exactly what this partnership in Colorado seeks to achieve.”
Private sector engagement is critical to the initiative’s success, says Noel Ginsburg, CEO of Denver-based Intertech Plastics, a program participant. At present, 17 Colorado companies have committed to placing students in apprenticeships through CareerWise.
“The schools have been doing a lot of the work over the years in responding to what businesses and industries want, and in some cases they’re making progress,” Ginsburg said at a September 26 kick-off for the program at the Mesa County Workforce Center. “What they can’t do is everything. The view of CareerWise is if businesses and industry meet schools at the front door and form a meaningful partnership, [and] we engage in part of the education process through youth apprenticeships, it creates more choice for students and the ability for them to enter into high-demand roles.”
The first round of 250 apprenticeships is slated to begin in fall 2017. State leaders have set an ambitious goal for the program, aiming “to create over 20,000 apprenticeships in high-demand occupations across multiple business sectors over the next 10 years.” That total would encompass about 10% of eligible students in Colorado high schools.
“We are in the process of building a real pipeline for talent that goes from the school and campus directly to the workplace,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said in announcing the program’s launch on September 15. “This apprentice system has the potential to really be a game-changer, not just here but across the country.”