A Pilatus Aircraft apprentice shows Gov. Hickenlooper and BEL Commissioner Bosshard how he applies his learning to his work building airplanes.
When I was a business owner, I knew that my companies were only as good as the talented people working for them. It didn’t matter if we had a great idea if we didn’t have the workforce to implement it.
Whether a brew master or a kitchen manager, a bookkeeper or a busser, they all required some level of critical thinking and problem solving; they all required a knowledge of the business and its operations to be successful. A good education was a big help in reducing the learning curve for employees joining the team, but ultimately, there had to be on-the-job training and practical experience.
As governor of Colorado, it is clear that the role of government is to ensure our residents have a path to a high quality of life. As Jim Clifton said in The Coming Jobs War, “What the whole world wants is a good job.” Despite Colorado being one of the most educated states, we have a paradox − we are not growing enough of our own talent. We have allowed for too many leaks in the pipeline; students are dropping out of high school, not getting a postsecondary degree, and most importantly, not getting good jobs.
In January, I joined business and education leaders to see firsthand how Switzerland grows their own talent. What we saw was a system where business and education were aligned. We heard 16-year-olds talk about learning how to be an underwriter from Credit Suisse and UBS. We met an 18-year-old who spent two years learning logistics from the Swiss railway, long enough to determine he’s better suited to film production, which he plans to tackle next. We saw a system of youth apprenticeships that was the driver of not just education, but the Swiss economy.
What we love about apprenticeship is the combination of theory and practice. It’s a path that joins both, so there is relevance to what is being taught in the classroom. The best part is that apprentices are earning money and businesses are getting productive work, a mutual benefit that ensures sustainability.
Last year we created the Business Experiential Learning Commission to put businesses at the helm to steer Colorado to a system of youth apprenticeships. This commission, chaired by Intertech Plastics CEO Noel Ginsburg, is aligning our state agencies to work together to build youth apprenticeship pathways.
Students will be able to begin apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing, information technology, financial services and other industries while still in high school. Our higher education institutions will support these apprenticeships with related instruction that aligns with credit. In other words, these students are not choosing a path away from college, but rather reducing the financial burden of higher education by earning an apprenticeship wage while pursuing higher education.
For too long, we in the U.S. have associated apprenticeships with only the building trades. In Colorado, we’re now looking at apprenticeships in industries like health care, advanced manufacturing, technology, finance and hospitality.
And students and businesses are responding. Mikron Corp. Denver is a perfect example. They were recently looking for five apprentices and were so impressed with the quality of candidates, they doubled their hiring. And that’s just one example. Students, and their parents, are hungry for different opportunities.
Through apprenticeship programs, we are providing students with choice and upward mobility, a path to a sustainable career, an education that doesn’t leave them in more debt than they can handle, and the ability to provide for their families. We are giving students a shot at fulfilling their dreams to create the life they want.
John Hickenlooper is the governor of Colorado. Learn more about apprenticeship.