Not your grandpa’s apprenticeships: Colorado invests in paid training as a way into the workforce (2023)

Naarai Navarro lived a double life as a Denver high school student and a claims-agent-in-training at Pinnacol Assurance, the Denver-based workers’ compensation insurance agency.

In the mornings, the 16-year-old attended classes at John F. Kennedy High School. But come afternoon, she transformed into a working professional as a registered apprentice.

In addition to being taught the ins and outs of the insurance industry, Navarro mastered career skills like composing business emails, public speaking and phone etiquette — and she got paid while doing so, earning as she learned. Pinnacol even enrolls their young apprentices in Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association program, meaning the teen was already saving for retirement.

At the end of Navarro’s three-year apprenticeship, Pinnacol hired her right out of high school to a full-time position as a bilingual business development representative. By 20, she said she’d saved enough money to buy a house with her sister and brother-in-law. Next, she’s saving up for a new car with aspirations to one day utilize her business knowledge to open her own Mexican restaurant.

“An apprenticeship will change your life,” said Navarro, now 21. “As a high schooler, I didn’t think insurance sounded that interesting, but look at all I’ve done. I’m learning so much, and now I know there is much more to the job than I thought.”

Colorado’s Pinnacol Assurance is looked at nationally — the U.S. Department of Labor recently visited — as a model of a successful youth apprenticeship program. While the program is among the largest and most robust apprenticeship programs in the state, it is just one of several hundred opportunities for Coloradans of all demographics to gain on-the-job workforce experience and get paid while learning.

As of Monday, Colorado recorded 5,826 active apprentices, 287 active apprenticeship programs and 473 employers participating in these programs, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Some of these are youth-focused apprenticeships while others accept people of all ages.

The state is investing in apprenticeship programs, heralding them as the future of workforce development — so much so that in 2021, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law establishing the State Apprenticeship Agency, which is set to launch this July.

The agency is intended to:

  • Be the primary point of contact with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship
  • Accelerate new apprenticeship program growth
  • Oversee apprenticeship programs, including registration, certification, quality assurance and compliance with federal laws

While trades like construction are still the bread and butter of apprenticeship programs, experts said these types of on-the-job learning opportunities are being built to attract and retain an evolving talent pipeline in a number of industries such as health care, education, information technology and business services.

(Video) Apprenticeship Career Paths Are Critical for Young People | Matt Poischbeg | TEDxSnoIsleLibraries

“These aren’t your grandpa’s apprenticeships,” said Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Noel Ginsburg, founder and CEO of Colorado-based nonprofit CareerWise, believes apprenticeship programs are more than a philanthropic endeavor or workforce bolster.

Ginsburg, who has spent his career advocating for and setting up apprenticeships, said paid training opportunities should play a key role in mending the division, anger and uncertainty festering in the country.

“If we don’t change the system meaningfully, which apprenticeship does, I am really concerned about the future not just of our state but our country,” Ginsburg said. “Inequity will hold a country back and create some of the discourse we see politically. If people don’t see hope, if they don’t see a way of opportunity, then we end up with where this country is. It’s not that apprenticeship is a silver bullet, but a foundational piece.”

Not your grandpa’s apprenticeships: Colorado invests in paid training as a way into the workforce (1)

What’s an apprenticeship?

People often conflate apprenticeships with internships, but Katherine Keegan, director of the labor department’s Office of the Future of Work, said that’s a misconception.

Registered apprenticeships, Keegan said, are much more regulated than internships and must meet certain requirements to qualify. All apprenticeships must be a mix of on-the-job training and classroom instruction, provide payment, offer successful apprentices nationally recognized credentials in their field, and supply mentorship.

“Crafted well, apprenticeships can be an equity strategy because they address the need for debt-free labor credentials,” said Brent Parton, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

While an apprenticeship can be an alternative to college, it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation, said Chris Heuston, director of apprenticeships at Front Range Community College.

Front Range is recognized by the federal Labor Department as an apprenticeship ambassador, meaning the community college system will support the administration’s goals in modernizing, diversifying and expanding apprenticeships in the state, Heuston said.

The system’s campuses offer apprenticeship opportunities in manufacturing, technology, tree care and health care positions such as pharmacy tech, medical assisting and surgical technology.

(Video) A tech apprenticeship program helping middle America find jobs without college

Front Range partners with local industries like hospitals and tree maintenance businesses for a combination of classroom learning and on-the-job training for people of all ages and backgrounds, Heuston said.

Many of the employers Front Range partners with help their apprentices pay for tuition. In the past three years, the community college’s industry partners have paid about half a million dollars toward apprentices’ tuition, Heuston said. Fewer than 7% of the nearly 400 apprentices that Front Range has trained since 2019 needed to take out student loans to support their training, Heuston said.

“With the rising cost of higher education, I think individuals are looking for alternatives for how they can be trained in an occupation,” said Renée Welch, director of collegiate apprenticeships at the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Apprenticeships, Parton said, also address equity gaps when it comes to the often intangible but critical benefits of social capital — providing access to professional networking through mentorship.

“Unpaid internships have made it challenging to distribute workforce experience equitably,” Parton said.

Apprenticeship programs are typically years-long and, in addition to payment, apprentices are federally required to receive a wage increase at least once. The wages themselves vary depending on the company.

At Pinnacol Assurance, an apprentice’s starting wage is $18.24 an hour with annual performance-based raises. The youth apprentices also receive a benefits package that includes Pinnacol’s employee incentive program, PERA retirement and paid time off.

“It’s not just philanthropy,” said Liz Johnson, director of public relations at Pinnacol. “It’s not this thing we like to do because it feels nice. It’s part of our recruitment pipeline.”

Not your grandpa’s apprenticeships: Colorado invests in paid training as a way into the workforce (2)

Diversifying the field

Pinnacol focuses on the youth apprenticeship model, recruiting teens in high school — in partnership with their school districts and postsecondary institutions — to begin their careers while balancing their academic lives.

Apprentice Brandi Valdez-Montoya, 20, sat in her Pinnacol cubicle last week stationed across from the futuristic pod where apprentices can cozy up in a heated reclining chair for a power nap. Valdez-Montoya works for the insurance company’s special investigations team, running background reports and collecting medical records, police records and more to investigate people’s claims.

(Video) Apprenticeship Rising 2020 | CareerWise Colorado

“I’m interested in criminal justice, but outside of positions like a cop or a judge, I didn’t really know what else existed,” Valdez-Montoya said. “I had no idea this job existed, and I am trusted to deal with sensitive information, and I’ve learned so much.”

Pinnacol’s apprenticeship program was born out of a trip to Switzerland taken by Pinnacol leadership and CareerWise’s Ginsburg several years ago, during which Ginsburg showed Colorado business leaders how the Swiss model of youth apprenticeships helps sustain that nation’s workforce.

Ginsburg founded a custom plastics business during his senior year at the University of Denver in 1980 but had trouble finding manufacturing workers. The businessman approached Montbello High School, forming a lasting partnership with Denver Public Schools to integrate traditional schooling with industry training, and never looked back.

When Ginsburg traveled abroad to study Switzerland’s apprenticeship model, he was struck by its efficacy.Seventy percent of Swiss people start out with an apprenticeship that begins in the 11th grade, he said.

Although apprenticeship utilization rates in the U.S. fall well below European countries, the 3,143 new U.S. apprenticeships established in the fiscal year 2020 were a 73% increase over the number that existed in 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“The biggest challenge we face now that we have examples of this working is really businesses taking this on at scale,” Ginsburg said. “It’s still a foreign language to most businesses. Thinking of taking a 15- or 16-year-old into your business when you have a 16-year-old at home who won’t listen to you… but the reality is young people do want to be treated as adults and respond well.”

CareerWise helps employers design apprenticeship programs for their needs, Ginsburg said. The state also offers grant and funding opportunities to help pay for apprenticeship programs in Colorado, according to the labor department.

Since Pinnacol’s apprenticeship program began in 2017, the company has enrolled 63 apprentices trained by more than 50 coaches and supervisors — employees from different departments who signed up to be mentors — with the support of two dedicated apprentice program staffers.

Twelve apprentices have been hired at Pinnacol full-time and 83% of those hires have been from BIPOC backgrounds, the company said. More than two-thirds of the participants in Pinnacol’s program finish it and go into the workforce or opt for college or another opportunity after two years.

According to the Labor Department, 93% of apprentices nationwide who complete their programs retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000.

Nationally, apprenticeships remain heavily white and male, with more than 75% of U.S. apprentices identifying as white and just over 10% of apprentices identifying as women, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

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Diversifying the apprentice sphere — broadening it from the traditional trades and attracting and retaining a more diverse candidate pool — is critical for the future of the programs nationwide, Parton said.

Diverse apprentices like Navarro are proof of how revolutionary paid training opportunities can be.

Navarro grew up in a big family in Denver, living paycheck to paycheck.

“I always saw my parents struggling, and I didn’t want that,” Navarro said. “I wanted to have my own things and provide for myself.”

While Navarro was an apprentice, she gave Community College of Denver a shot, but decided she was learning more in her apprenticeship than she was in her college courses — with the bonus that she was getting paid and receiving benefits.

“Apprenticeships are a big commitment,” Navarro said. “I’m living a very different life than my peers, but I’ve accomplished so much already and, with the skills I’ve acquired, can keep going further.”

Get more Colorado news by signing up for our daily Your Morning Dozen email newsletter.

Updated 11:30 a.m. Feb. 2, 2023 Due to an editor’s error, this story incorrectly stated how many participants in Pinnacol Assurance’s apprenticeship program go into the workforce or a post-secondary institution. That figure is more than two-thirds.

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Not your grandpa’s apprenticeships: Colorado invests in paid training as a way into the workforce (3)


Do apprentices get paid for training? ›

Apprentices are paid by their employer for the work they do, as well as for time spent on training. If you are under 19 (or still in the first year of your apprenticeship) there is a minimum apprenticeship rate, but employers can and often do pay more.

What is the importance of having an apprenticeship training? ›

Apprenticeship programs help employers: Recruit and develop a highly-skilled workforce that helps grow their business. Improve productivity, profitability, and an employer's bottom line.

What are the 5 key components of an apprenticeship? ›

Apprenticeship programs consist of five core components: direct business involvement, on-the-job training, related instruction, rewards for skill gains, and completion resulting in a national occupation credential.

How much do the apprentices get paid? ›

The current minimum apprenticeship wage (2023) is £4.81 per hour. This is based on the national apprenticeship wage, which was last updated in a March 2022 budget statement by Rishi Sunak.

Who pays you for an apprenticeship? ›

Apprenticeships are paid for in two ways, and neither is by the apprentice themselves. One way is through the employer, if they have a pay bill of over £3 million per year. Another way is through the government, and this is done when the employer has a pay bill of less than £3 million a year.

What are the pros and cons of the apprenticeship program? ›

Pros and cons of apprenticeships
  • You get practical experience. ...
  • You improve your skills. ...
  • You get paid. ...
  • You finish without debt.
  • You can get certified. ...
  • There are many careers to choose from. ...
  • You have limited career choice. ...
  • You may not get to experience university life.
Sep 29, 2021

What are the 4 reasons why you should consider an apprenticeship? ›

Apprenticeships are a brilliant option for people of all ages to launch their careers in a huge range of exciting industries or upskill at various levels.
Here are five reasons why there has never been a better time to do an apprenticeship.
  • It's a paid job. ...
  • You get high quality training. ...
  • The wide range of choices on offer.
Jun 29, 2022

Is getting an apprenticeship a good idea? ›

Apprenticeship training programmes are specifically tailored to ensure you develop the skills employers want. This means that apprentices not only have better long-term salary prospects, but they also have excellent progression opportunities, whether looking to study further or climb the ranks within the workplace.

How successful are apprenticeships? ›

The benefits of hiring apprentices

Hiring apprentices brings a number of benefits to employers: 80% of employers have maintained or improved future skills in the business. 70% of employers have seen improvements in the goods and services they offer. 66% of employers have experienced improved staff morale.

What jobs are apprenticeships good for? ›

From something hands-on like engineering, nursing or construction, to a career in marketing, law or project management, to name a few. With an apprenticeship, most of your learning is through on-the-job training and you'll work towards a qualification at the same time.

What is the most common apprenticeship? ›

Business and Digital were most popular apprenticeships of 2021
  • Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship – 292 applications.
  • Business Systems Apprenticeship (Advanced Level 3) – 283 applications.
  • Actuarial Apprenticeship (Higher Level 4) – 281 applications.
Jan 17, 2022

What are the 4 types of apprenticeships? ›

There are four levels of apprenticeships: intermediate, advanced, higher, and degree. Keep scrolling to find out what each level involves, and what you need to apply.

What are the responsibilities of an apprentice? ›

At work your apprentice or trainee must:
  • follow the conditions set out in their employment contract.
  • perform work as directed by their supervisor.
  • behave politely and professionally.
  • follow all legal instructions and directives (e.g. dress codes, health and safety procedures)
Apr 22, 2021

How much do apprentices get paid a month? ›

Apprentice Salaries in London

The average salary for Apprentice is £21,049 per year in the London. The average additional cash compensation for a Apprentice in the London is £1,372, with a range from £421 - £4,475.

Do I have to pay back my apprenticeship? ›

Do You Have to Pay Back Any Money? No. Unlike university, you will not have to pay back any money for dropping out of the apprenticeship before completion. In new funding rules, employers are no longer able to ask apprentices to pay back any costs for training, exams or other activities.

How much does a 22 year old apprentice get paid? ›

Apprenticeship pay varies considerably across London boroughs: Level 2 pay ranges from £4.30 to £12.29. Level 3 pay ranges from £5.95 to £12.29. For higher level apprenticeships, the hourly rate ranges from £8.72 to £15.24.

How much does an employer get for taking on an apprentice? ›

This is called 'co-investment'. In practical terms, this means that the employer will pay 5% towards the cost of Apprenticeship training, and the Government will pay the rest (95%), up to the funding band maximum.

Does the government pay companies to take apprentices? ›

The Govt will fund 90% of the cost of the apprenticeship training, and the employer (the school) funds the remaining 10%.

Does the government pay towards apprenticeships? ›

You can get help from the government to pay for apprenticeship training. The amount you get depends on whether you pay the apprenticeship levy or not.

What are the disadvantages of an apprenticeship? ›

The Cons
  • You won't get access to certain careers. ...
  • You won't experience university life. ...
  • You'll have greater responsibilities. ...
  • Holidays are short. ...
  • The competition is tough. ...
  • The salary is lower. ...
  • You might experience an age gap. ...
  • You'll receive less recognition.
Nov 19, 2021

How long does an apprenticeship last? ›

It can take between one and four years to complete. All apprenticeships have set content. However, employers can add extra content that meets their specific needs. Most apprenticeships are offered in partnership with a training organisation (a college or learning provider).

Why is apprenticeship better than college? ›

They put you on a career path to earn a great living, without a ton of college debt. Benefits include incremental wage increases, job security and a portable, national or industry-recognized credential, certificate or degree. In Utah, apprentices make up to $60,000 a year upon completion of their apprenticeship.

What is the problem with apprenticeships? ›

Some of the common problems that apprentices and trainees face include: not getting the right support from your employer or trainer. being harassed or discriminated against. being underpaid.

Why don t more people do apprenticeships? ›

While the cost of higher education has soared, the fundamentals of classroom instruction remain relatively cheap. This cost has long been a factor in deterring apprenticeship programs. Economists have long noted that this form of training suffers from a problem of credible commitment.

What are the disadvantages of apprenticeships for employers? ›

They could leave your firm when qualified. There is always the risk that your apprentice could complete their training with you but then leave to work for someone else. This can be rather frustrating for employers, especially since you've invested your time into training them and moulding them to fit your firm.

Why do apprentices get paid so little? ›

The apprentice minimum wage was established to encourage companies to employ apprentices, and the low rate reflects the reality that apprentices are still in training.

Can you get fired from an apprenticeship? ›

Apprenticeship agreements can be terminated lawfully, provided the dismissal is fair and in accordance with the contract. If it is a fixed-term apprenticeship, unless the contract provides a right of early termination, an employer may have to pay the salary for the entire term where the agreement is terminated early.

How many days a week should an apprentice work? ›

Apprentices should work for a minimum of 30 hours a week, and a maximum of 40. Time spent off the job at a college or in training is included.

Is an apprenticeship better than a degree? ›

However, it's important to remember that the training and skills you gain as an apprentice are focused on one role or specific industry. Whereas, a university degree can lend itself to a broader range of careers by teaching you more general skills.

Do apprenticeships guarantee a job? ›

According to the latest stats from the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills, 90% of apprentices are offered permanent employment either during their apprenticeship or upon graduation.

Can you fail an apprenticeship? ›

Resits and retakes

Apprentices who fail one or more assessment method will be offered the opportunity to take a resit or a retake.

Does an apprenticeship lead to a job? ›

One study found that a huge 85% of apprentices stay in employment, and 64% of these continue working with the same employer.

Can I do an apprenticeship at 50? ›

Yes! There is no apprenticeship age limit. There are many ways apprenticeships can not only benefit older people but can also be beneficial for their careers - from upskilling to restarting in a new field.

What is the oldest age to be an apprentice? ›

Apprenticeships are not age restricted. As long as you are above the age of 16 you are eligible for an Apprenticeship. There is a common misconception that to be an Apprentice you must be between the ages of 16-25. However, this is not true.

Is being an apprentice stressful? ›

This can be really difficult. Throughout my apprenticeship, there have been times where I have suffered from stress, peaking around exam times. Working in a job where you are constantly learning, then going home to learn even more is challenging, no matter how supportive your workplace.

Is it hard being an apprentice? ›

The truth is, being a tradie is hard work. It's not like an office job where you sit at a desk for hours and barely see the light of day. One of the best bits of being a tradie and starting your apprenticeship is your 'office' is constantly changing, and you'll never be chained to one place for too long.

What is a Level 7 apprenticeship? ›

Level 7 apprenticeship are a great option if you've recently graduated from university. They'll give you experience working with an employer but also allow you to continue academically challenge yourself by working towards a qualification which is the equivalent to a Masters level qualification.

What qualifications do you need for an apprenticeship? ›

To be eligible for an apprenticeship, you must be at least 16 years of age and have a minimum of grade D in 5 subjects in the Junior Cycle or equivalent exam. However, higher educational qualifications and other requirements may be required by employers.

What is a Level 5 apprenticeship? ›

Level 5 apprenticeships are equivalent to a foundation degree, or a Higher National Diploma (HND).

What is the best way to support an apprentice? ›

As well as providing 'on-the-job' training for your apprentice, you are encouraged to provide additional support to ensure your apprentice's success.
  • identify development opportunities.
  • build an apprentice's confidence, independence, and self-belief.
  • set goals.
  • support personal development and wellbeing.

Are you supposed to get paid for training? ›

If the training is mandatory for your job, your employer is legally obligated to pay you for the time spent. If the training is done outside of your work hours, you may be eligible for overtime pay, as well. In contrast, some employers offer extra training or coursework as a bonus or perk, to the job.

How much do apprentices get off the job training? ›

For apprentices

You should receive a minimum of 20% off-the-job training. Off the job training can vary from block release to a day a week and many more variations. You are not expected to complete your apprenticeship training in your own time.

Do you get paid while training for a job? ›

However, if you, the employer, request that an employee undertakes training that's required for their job, then this should be paid – even if the training takes place outside of the employee's normal work hours.

Should you get paid for training when starting a new job? ›

Answer. Your question is a common one, and the answer is that your employer has to pay. In fact, your employer may have to pay twice: Once for your time, and once for the training. If training is mandatory, then you have the right to be paid for your time.

Can my employer force me to do unpaid training? ›

Whether you get paid for time spent on mandatory training can depend on your contract. If you're an employee or worker and started working for your employer after 6 April 2020 your written terms must set out the training that you must complete, including training the employer does not pay for.

What happens if you don't get paid for training? ›

Illegal Unpaid Training in California

According to California employment law, all time your employer requires you to spend on the job, even if you are not yet “being productive” absolutely must be paid. Otherwise, your employer is stealing your time and refusing to compensate.

What happens if a job doesn't pay you for training? ›

Only in certain circumstances should training time go unpaid. When companies illegally deny proper pay for this time, employees may be able to file a class action lawsuit to collect their unpaid wages under a federal law known as the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

What is the apprenticeship Reform 2022? ›

In 2022, all apprenticeships that are delivered are based on apprenticeship standards developed by employers, which set out the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) required to be occupationally competent.

Are apprentices worth it? ›

Apprenticeship training programmes are specifically tailored to ensure you develop the skills employers want. This means that apprentices not only have better long-term salary prospects, but they also have excellent progression opportunities, whether looking to study further or climb the ranks within the workplace.

How long should you be in training at a new job? ›

New employee training is an important part of the hiring process because it teaches new hires about the company's values, mission and goals, as well as how to be successful in their individual role. This period of instruction may last up to 90 days or longer, depending on the unique desired outcomes of the company.


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