In an economy rapidly evolving with technological advances, the need for relative, work-based learning opportunities is essential. As a premier university for workforce development with a commitment to serving learners at every age and stage of life, CU Denver is thrilled to announce its first-ever apprenticeship program, housed within the College of Engineering, Design and Computing (CEDC) to simultaneously benefit students and employers.
An apprenticeship is defined by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) as an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and nationally recognized credentials. Apprenticeships help students gain workforce skills while earning a paycheck, and in turn employers get a reliable workforce pipeline.
On June 23, 2021, Gov. Polis signed HB21-1007: State Apprenticeship Agency (SAA) into law, signifying the state’s commitment to increase access to “earn-and-learn programs” that lead to high-quality jobs and build the talent pipeline, according to the CDLE. CU Denver exemplifies that commitment with its new apprenticeship program, which is expected to be the first of many for the CEDC and industry partners, said Martin Dunn, CEDC dean and interim chief research officer.
CEDC’s former Associate Director of Business Relationships and Development Molly Thompson, who was instrumental in creating the CEDC-based programs, said apprenticeships are a particularly powerful tool for lower-income, first-generation student—who make up a large portion of CU Denver’s population.
“As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and as a state institution, I feel like we have an ethical obligation to help our students find work—and the very best work in their field that they can reach right out of school,” Thompson said. “It’s a really great way for us as a minority-serving institution to lean into workforce development and ensure our diverse student body is getting the very best opportunities that we can offer them.”
Apprenticeships date back to the Middle Ages, when young people would perform labor for craftsmen in exchange for food, housing, and formal training. In the colonial era, apprenticeships helped advance the United States to what is it today. Among notable apprentices are George Washington, who was a surveyor, and Paul Revere, who was a silversmith. Today, apprenticeships have a more employer-driven model that blends experiential learning with classroom instruction and are most common in traditional trade areas, such as building and construction, engineering, and manufacturing.
CU Denver’s new apprenticeship program is in the areas of construction project management and user experience designer—two increasingly in-demand industries in the region. For context, industry data rates Denver in the top 15 U.S. cities for construction, based on building permits and number of workers. Demand is high at a time when the city has a shortage of skilled construction workers and construction management professionals. With certificate, bachelor’s, and master’s programs in Construction Engineering and Management (CEM), the CEDC is already helping prepare its students for the field. The apprenticeship adds another layer, allowing students to gain hands-on experience working for an industry partner, while receiving college credit and a paycheck.
The construction project management apprenticeship is in partnership with CU Denver’s Facilities Management team. The user experience designer apprenticeship is with the CEDC’s Inworks, an innovative and collaborative community of learners. The programs are open to all students working toward a CEDC bachelor’s degree, regardless of their GPA, as long as they’ve taken base-level classes.
A Testament to CU Denver’s Focus on Workforce Development
The apprenticeship program falls in line with two goals in CU Denver’s 2030 Strategic Plan: Goal 1, to become the first equity-serving institution, and Goal 2, to be known as a university for life. Apprenticeships provide a different pathway for learners by directly connecting them to employers and providing the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in an industry of choice. CU Denver’s commitment to workforce development, innovation, and investment in diverse, local talent aligns well with the mission and structure of this type of program.
Dunn and others behind the idea foresee the apprenticeship program expanding in the future across university departments. “I am thrilled with this important step to provide work-based learning to our students that prepares them to hit the ground running in service of critical Colorado industry sectors like construction and information technology (IT),” said Dunn, adding,
“We are excited to continue our work with industry partners to develop invaluable apprenticeship opportunities within other sectors.”