From the Colorado Economic Development Guide 2017

A Business-Driven Approach to Apprenticeship

New workforce development programs in Colorado train students and job seekers for in-demand careers.

Brenne Etzel is an apprentice at Mikron in Englewood.
Photo by Nathan Armes for CareerWise Colorado


Colorado is on the job when it comes to training the next generation and its current workforce for the state’s most in-demand fields.

In the last year, the Colorado Workforce Development Council and several key partners launched two new, innovative workforce development programs: Skillful and CareerWise.

CareerWise is modeled after the highly successful apprenticeship program in Switzerland. More than 70 percent of students in the Swiss program have an apprenticeship, and 40 percent of companies participate. As a result, the country’s youth jobless rate is under 4 percent. The program creates loyal employees, as 30 percent of apprentices return to their training company after college.

The Colorado CareerWise program hopes for similar results. But it’s taking a slow, measured approach while the program begins. There are 116 Denver-area students in the first cohort working with 40 companies in four industries: advanced manufacturing, financial services, business operations and technology. The program will have a four-year health-care career tract next year.

“This isn’t going to work because we have a big government initiative; it’s going to work because the endeavor itself of having youth apprenticeship satisfied a genuine need for students and businesses,” says Gretchen Morgan, president of CareerWise.

CareerWise sets high school juniors up with a three-year paid apprenticeship at a local company, where they learn practical jobs skills while earning high school and college credit. Students spend three days a week in the classroom and 16 to 24 hours a week in the workplace. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, students have three years of valuable work experience, recognized industry certifications and free college credits. Students can then decide to take a high-demand position in their industry or continue their education.

Morgan says the program is “business-driven and student-centered.” For companies, this translates into the opportunity to invest in their future workforce and shape highly trained, loyal employees.

“It is business-driven to ensure it is aligned to market and meeting their needs, and that the competencies are authentically aligned to success,” Morgan says. “It’s student-centered in that we’ve got enough of a package around the students that we’re really ensuring this is positively changing their level of opportunity.”

Skillful is another initiative aimed at developing Colorado’s workforce. Launched in 2016 and created by Markle in partnership with Microsoft, LinkedIn, the state of Colorado and local partners, Skillful connects people to middle-skill jobs. Microsoft Philanthropies invested $25.8 million into the program in June.

The program provides high-growth, industry-specific job training as well as guidance on career pathways for workers without a college degree. Job seekers can use Skillful’s coaches and online services to learn about in-demand skills and access training.

“We are honored to be the first state to gain access to Skillful, which builds on our efforts to promote skills-based training and hiring in Colorado. It will help keep our state competitive both nationally and globally,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper.

More than 1,400 job seekers in Colorado have worked with Skillful career coaches, and more than 90 companies have partnered with Skillful on a local level. Markle plans to expand Skillful to other states.

“Skillful has helped job seekers in Colorado develop the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly tech-driven workplace and helped employers connect with these talented job seekers,” said Hickenlooper. “Microsoft’s investment will bring these benefits to even more workers and companies across the state. Together, we can provide opportunity for income growth and career satisfaction for every Coloradoan. I look forward to seeing Skillful serve as a model for the rest of the country.”


Savannah King
Managing Editor of Custom Content

Savannah King

Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.


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