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Where On-the-Job Training and Education Partner: Apprenticeships

While reading and studying are cornerstones of a robust educational experience, doing can be a game-changer. And doing is exactly what apprenticeship programs accomplish best.

On-the-job training makes information gained in the classroom come alive in a very real — and practical — way. Putting theory and knowledge into practice leads to better job performance and, ultimately, better career options in your chosen field.

Going Beyond the Internship with On-the-Job Training

Apprenticeships play a significant role in several career-focused programs at Arapahoe Community College (ACC). These learning experiences differ from internships in that in addition to learning a highly marketable skill, students also earn a wage throughout their apprenticeship. This is thanks to a partnership with local companies that commit to providing on-the-job training and practical work to support in-class instruction at ACC.

“We take your basic internship and structure it alongside an academic pathway,” says Eric Dunker, PhD, Associate Vice President and Dean of Business Technology and Workforce Partnerships at ACC. “We ask, ‘What should a mid-level person be able to do in this field? What should a successful employee know and be able to do in the role they are striving for?

By building apprenticeship programs around the answers to these questions, ACC provides on-the-job training and instructional opportunities that help students develop broadly transferrable skills and a comprehensive knowledge base across multiple disciplines, from science to math to economics.

Dunker explains that the success of ACC’s apprenticeship programs is largely based on its valuable partnerships with area employers. “The role of a community college is to align itself with local industry clusters,” he says. With a better understanding of the skills these companies need, ACC can work with employers to create the most relevant on-the-job programs and update its curriculum to ensure students learn the skills and best practices. 

Training for a Global Economy

These days, it’s not enough to just learn a technical skill. Soft skills like teamwork and communication are just as valuable in an environment where every industry is competing within a global economy.

“In order to survive in this global economy, people need an education that’s relatable anywhere,” he says. “You need to be able to think critically, problem-solve, and collaborate.” And, according to Dunker, these skills are often hard to come by.

“CEOs are having a hard time finding employees with 21st century soft skills,” he says. This is why ACC places such a strong emphasis on incorporating these skills into its curriculum and each apprenticeship program supported by the school.

Creating a “Stackable Path” for Reaching Your Goals

A significant advantage of apprenticeships is that they provide a “stackable path” on the way to a 4-year degree and beyond. “You might want to be a nurse or a doctor one day, but have you ever worked in a medical facility?” Dunker asks. “Getting that experience is a good idea — and you can do that through ACC’s Medical Assisting Apprenticeship Program.” The same is true of the other apprenticeship programs offered through ACC.

“Only 33% of all bachelor’s degree graduates have work experience in their field when they finish school,” says Dunker. In contrast, student-apprentices get practical, on-the-job training and a wage on their way to earning an associate degree or industry certification. Additionally, he explains, “They don’t come out of college with a ton of debt.” He cites apprenticeships as an excellent option for students who want to stay closer to home, reduce student debt, and get on-the-job training.

For some students, an apprenticeship can help them become certified in a specific industry for a particular role. For others, the apprenticeship is a stepping stone on that “stackable path” that leads to a bachelor’s, graduate, and/or a professional degree. Regardless of your educational or professional goals, an apprenticeship can be the right “next step” to move you to the place you want to be.

Getting Started With an Apprenticeship at ACC

You shouldn’t let a lack of experience in your chosen industry stop you from pursuing an apprenticeship. After all, gaining experience is the whole idea behind on the job training.

To be considered for an apprenticeship, you must first apply to a program you’re interested in pursuing. ACC’s apprenticeship options include:

  • Community Association Manager Apprenticeship Program
  • Medical Assisting Apprenticeship Program
  • Property Management Apprenticeship Program
  • Water Operator Apprentice Program

Once students are selected for an apprenticeship program, they’ll spend around 15 hours each week in on-campus and/or online instruction in addition to working 25-40 hours a week. The online option, says Dunker, “provides much more flexible options for students. It allows them to work and to get their education, without having to choose between the two.”

In addition to the required classroom time, students gain significant paid, on-the-job training at their employer’s place of business.

A Closer Look at ACC’s Apprenticeship Programs

You may be familiar with the concept of apprenticeships within the skilled trades. ACC’s apprenticeship programs move beyond some of the more traditional opportunities and into career fields not typically associated with an apprentice experience. Like all apprenticeships, however, the emphasis in each one is on developing job-ready skills:

Community Association Management Apprenticeship
From managing condominiums to leading the homeowner’s association of a high-end planned community, professionals working in community association management are in the people business. They’re constantly working with homeowners, vendors, staff, and others to manage and enhance the communities in which people live.

Participants in this 2-year program spend between 32 to 40 hours each week going through on-the-job training and contributing productive work with their employer. Additionally, they attend business classes at ACC, where they’ll earn 24 credits that can be applied toward a 50-hour associate degree.

This program can lead to certifications such as Certified Manager of Community Associates (CMCA) and Association Management Specialist (AMS), as well as an ACC Business Administration Certificate and a Department of Labor apprenticeship certificate. “These students will be way ahead of those who come into the field with a bachelor’s degree, but don’t have experience or certifications,” says Dunker.

Medical Assisting Apprenticeship Program
When you go to the doctor, the first person you typically interact with is the one who takes your vitals and asks you health- and lifestyle-related questions. They might even conduct an EKG or collect a blood sample. In most cases, this person is a medical assistant. They gather important information about your health status so that it will be ready for the doctor to review when he or she sees you.

In partnership with Centura Health, the Medical Assisting Apprenticeship is currently the largest apprenticeship program at ACC and the largest one in health care in Colorado. For some students, their goal is to complete the program and become a medical assistant. For others, completing the program and becoming a medical assistant is only the first step in a career path that could lead them to become a nurse, doctor, or researcher. When it comes to selecting students for the program, “We co-recruit with Centura Health,” says Dunker. “We’re looking for students who are hungry to learn.”

During their apprenticeship, students complete 20 hours of online coursework each week, spend Fridays on campus for interactive lab classes and get on-the-job training for 32 to 40 hours a week at a Centura Health clinic location. Students are often hired at the clinic where they complete their training. “Of those who have completed the apprenticeship with Centura, 94% are still with Centura,” says Dunker.

The focus of this program is preparing students to take the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) exam, which is administered by the National Healthcareer Association. The pass rate for ACC students in recent years has been 90+%. In addition to the CCMA certification, students who successfully complete the Medical Assisting Apprenticeship Program have the option of earning the ACC Medical Assistant Certificate and a federal Department of Labor apprenticeship certificate.

Property Management Apprenticeship Program
Property managers work with owners to preserve the value of their commercial, residential, or industrial real estate, while also helping to generate income through leasing, rentals, and other business arrangements. All kinds of properties need managers, including apartments, detached houses, condominium units, warehouses, individual homes, and shopping centers.

ACC  partnered with the Apartment Association of Metro Denver (AAMD) to create a 2-year Property Management Apprenticeship where students spend 32 to 40 hours each week completing on-the-job training. Additionally, they attend online and hybrid classes at ACC that focus on various elements of business administration. Students can also choose to apply the 24 credit hours earned by completing this coursework to the 50-credit hour associate degree program.

Upon successful completion of the apprenticeship, students can earn the National Apartment Leasing Professional (NALP) credential, the Certified Apartment Manager (CAM) credential, and an ACC Business Administration Certificate. Employers who work with the apprentices in this program often hire ACC graduates as entry-level leasing professionals.

Water Operator Apprentice Program
Water operators typically work for water and wastewater treatment plants. These facilities treat water from various sources such as reservoirs, streams, and groundwater so that it is both safe for human consumption or to be released into the environment.

“This is one of the most recession-proof areas out there because we always need water,” says Dunker. “A water operator is a very technical job in a very sophisticated industry.”

ACC partners with Castle Rock Water — which provides services for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater — to offer the 2-year Water Operator Apprentice program. “We worked together to determine what their needs were and found a creative way of finding talent,” says Dunker. “It’s working out really well.”

Students in this program participate in up to 30 hours of on-the-job training each week at Castle Rock Water, while also completing coursework in areas such as math, biology, and chemistry through ACC. The credits earned from the successful completion of these courses can be applied toward an Associate of Science degree at ACC.

Upon graduation from the program, Dunker says apprentices will be qualified for “pretty much any entry- to mid-level job in the industry and can continue their education from there if they want.” Options could include pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, professional degree, or a PhD.

In addition to the college credit students earn during the Water Operator Apprentice Program, they also earn a water operator certification.

On-the-Job Training for Students. A Talent Pipeline for Employers.

When it comes to getting practical, paid experience while simultaneously earning credits toward a degree, apprenticeships are ideal for many students. “They’re saving money and earning an income while going to school in the field they’re studying,” says Dunker.

Apprenticeships also provide students a unique and valuable opportunity for professional networking. “When you’re working with your employer, you’re building a network and support structure that others don’t have,” says Dunker. There’s also a sense of loyalty that grows when a student knows that a company has invested in them — paying them for on-the-job training and for their education.

But what’s the benefit of apprenticeships for employers? There are several, says Dunker. “They provide employers access to qualified, home-grown employees; they help companies create a workforce that looks like the community you’re in.”

Additionally, the return on investment for employers is high — particularly since apprenticeships have a very strong retention rate. The apprentices trained by employers for specific positions are likely to remain with the company rather than taking those skills and knowledge to potential competitors. Apprenticeships also allow companies to train new talent for new positions that require new skills, and that helps them keep their talent pipelines full of highly qualified local applicants.

If on-the-job training sounds like it might be a good option for reaching your career and education goals, visit our website page to learn more about ACC’s apprenticeship programs.