Youth Apprenticeships

An employer-driven model and form of experiential learning that combines on-the-job learning as a paid employee with related classroom instruction to accelerate a student’s future skill level and earning potential.

Benefits and Challenges



  • Opportunity for a high return on investment as organization can fill company’s skill gap with in-house trained talent
  • Fresh perspectives to your most pressing issues
  • Proven way to recruit and evaluate prospective employees
  • Build community support and demand for your leadership, expertise, and engagement in education
  • Provides leadership opportunity to current employees, increasing their engagement with company as they mentor and manage apprentices

Potential Challenges

  • Bandwidth of internal team to coordinate and manage program
  • Identifying partnerships and securing youth apprentices

Students & Educators


  • Opportunity to apply in-school learnings in the workplace
  • Increase student motivation, attendance, and graduation rates
  • Promote school’s relationship with industry
  • Can provide a direct pathway to employment for a wide range of learners
  • Supports the development of Essential Skills , including a student’s social capital as they work alongside industry professionals

Potential Challenges

  • Time commitment and resources to get the program started
  • Identifying a business partner(s)
  • Transportation for students

Getting Started

This model, when applied to the K-12 education system, supports career readiness by providing high school students on-the-job training and targeted skill development while completing their final years of high school. While experts recommend a 2-3-year apprenticeship model, it has been demonstrated to be effective as a 1-year program for some districts and organizations such as Salida School District who created a 2-semester apprenticeship that enabled students to get credit for working on affordable housing construction projects. Before embarking on creating a new apprenticeship program, first consider a partnership with CareerWise Colorado–an organization that supports businesses in developing youth apprenticeship programs through a 3-year model that starts during a student’s sophomore or junior year. See what a 3-year commitment might look like.

An apprenticeship program can take many forms, but in general must be designed to meet key needs of the industry partner. Setting up a program is often a culture shift that requires buy-in from several parts of the organization, as well as targeted communications to help all stakeholders understand how the program fits into the overall business strategy for talent development.

There are two main types of youth apprenticeship programs: registered and unregistered.

  • Registered apprenticeships are managed by the U.S. Department of Labor and supported by nationally approved training models and verification of student/employee credentials.
  • Unregistered apprenticeships may be set up by employers looking to meet their individual needs.

The next section will provide guidance around unregistered apprenticeships and will include helpful links to a more formal registered apprenticeship.

Setting the Stage

Setting the stage requires doing some business soul searching through meetings with not only C-Suite executive leaders, but also initial conversations with stakeholders across all levels of the organization. This includes human resources, finance, and any other relevant business units within your company where apprentices may be leveraged. 

For a small company or organization with fewer stakeholders building buy-in may be easier than for larger corporations. However, there are still time and monetary investment considerations that need to be determined prior to planning for apprenticeships regardless of the organization’s size.

  • What does your organization hope to achieve from the program?
  • Is your organization growing quickly and having difficulty finding motivated and diverse new employees?
  • Is your organization searching for new employees with management potential?
  • Do you have roles or positions where high turnover exists?
  • Are positions available that require skills that can be learned on the job?
  • Are you focused on having a youth or adult apprenticeship?

Writing a Plan

This step will likely take several planning meetings different stakeholder groups in your organization to ensure buy-in and gain support managing the change throughout the organization. Make apprentices part of your strategy. One of the most critical items in your plan is to determine how the apprenticeship fits into your company or organization’s strategy. Understanding where apprentices fit in the organization 2-3 years down the road. This starts with forecasting out where staffing concerns are today or will be in the future and working backwards from there to determine how the program will complement the future of the business. 

  • How do apprentice’s fit into our business strategy?
  • What valuable work will they be doing for our company?
  • What will they be doing with their time?
  • How will we provide on the job and formal training?
  • Are we resourced to support apprentice coordination?
  • Do we have space, equipment, etc. for the apprentice(s)?
  • How will we manage performance?
  • How will we recruit?
  • What sorts of background, experience, or interests do you want in an apprentice? Decide on standards for quality beforehand – it’ll help you narrow down the choices to find the best candidates.
  • How much will you pay the apprentice?Wages vary widely from field to field; be sure yours are competitive. To give you an idea check out the estimate pay bands from CareerWise.

When you are planning, be sure that you:

Meet with all Departments

It is critical to work with departments across the organization to identify all the positions to be hired.  When determining which positions an apprentice may support, be sure to consider role wages, youth labor and safety laws, current as well as future gaps in talent, divisions that are more apt to support, supervise, coach, etc. 

Much of this information can be obtained through meeting with your human resources lead or through interviewing your business unit leads.

Identify Required & Desired Skills

Once the potential list of roles has been scoped, it is important to understand what skills, credentials, certifications, and other requirements are complementary, nice to have, or required for the roles where apprentices may be supporting. 

Keep in mind that there are different expectations for youth and adult apprenticeships. Meet with HR and others within the organization to understand how recruiting currently works and what the business is looking for in that talent pool. Then use that information to assign apprentices or identify additional training needs.

Clearly Define Training Plan

Having a clearly defined and articulate training plan is incredibly important. Consider basic onboarding needs, compliance, and advanced role-specific training, and how those lessons and skills will be sequenced over time.

Unlike interns, apprentices typically work year-round and will require continual education opportunities to grow and mature, as well as regular assessments to ensure they are learning the necessary skills and competencies. Understanding these needs will help organizations scope the level of effort and time required to train new apprentices.

Determine Staffing Implications

Experience suggests that it is ideal to identify a dedicated staff person to handle this work either full or part-time. Outside of the efforts to recruit, plan, onboard, and evaluate, this coordination role typically requires somebody who understands the ins and outs of your organization and can support planning the logistics for the apprenticeship (school schedules, holidays, transportation). 

As a rule of thumb, if you plan to have over five apprentices and/or more than one school district partner, you will want to hire a full-time equivalent to support the apprenticeship program.

Assign Mentor or Supervisors

Lastly, a very important part of your plan should be the assignment of a mentor or supervisor.  A mentor or supervisor is someone from the apprentice’s department who will oversee the apprentice. 

This person should be selected because he or she likes to teach or train and has the resources to do it. If the person you select has never mentored an apprentice before, give him or her some basic training in mentoring.

Managing Apprentices

Once you’ve hired someone, you put them to work, right? That is true for apprentices as well as regular employees, but with an apprentice, you will be making an important first impression. The beginning days of the apprenticeship program are often defining. When you give them their first tasks you will be signaling what can be expected in the future. If you give them nothing or very little to do, it sends a message that this job will be easy and boring. Apprentices don’t want that; of course, neither do employers.

The structure of your program will be the single most important influence on an apprentice’s impression of your organization, and thus the chances that he or she will come back. So, how do you plan for success? Consider the goals of your program — the nature of the program and the activities that you choose to undertake should directly relate to your program goals.

While it will vary from organization to organization, hosting an apprentice will add additional responsibilities to your current staff responsibilities. Supervisors and mentors should plan on adding an additional 30 minutes to an hour each week to check in with apprentice(s), evaluate their needs and ensure that expectations are being met on both the business and apprentice side. Supervisors should also plan on more heavily supporting onboarding and offboarding at the beginning and end of an apprenticeship.

This might take the form of a conventional orientation program or merely a walk around the office, depending on the size of your company. After all, even though they may not be permanent employees, they’ll be spending a great deal of time in your workplace. Give apprentices an overview of your organization; some companies give talks or hand out information about the company’s history, vision, mission, and services. Explain who does what and what the apprentice duties will be.  Introduce him or her to coworkers and give them a complete tour of the facility.

Making an apprentice at home in the office is your first step to bringing him or her back. In many programs, the first year of the apprentice at your organization will consist of a rotational program across different business units to determine interest and best fit.

That should sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how many companies stick apprentices in an out-of-the-way room or transfer them from desk to desk. That sends a potent message that you don’t want to send: Apprentices aren’t important; we don’t want you here. Give the apprentice a desk and show them where to find needed supplies.

If you intimidate your apprentices into silence, you could miss out on valuable contributions to your projects – or warnings about impending problems. In addition to the tools to get work done, apprentices need meaningful assignments. After all, that’s why you brought them on. Having them work on well-defined projects gives them clear opportunities for success and contributes meaningfully to your business.

This does not mean to watch their every move, but do make sure you know what is happening in their daily tasks. Watch for signs that the apprentice is confused or bored. As often as silence means that an apprentice is busy, it also could mean that he or she is confused and shy about telling you so.

It is easy to be uncomfortable in a workplace full of strangers who all know each other. See whether the apprentice is trying to do anything that requires someone else’s input. Make sure that the work is taking precedence over web browsing or texting friends. Paying attention early helps you head off problems and bad habits.

Especially if your apprentices have never done this kind of work before, they’ll want to know if their work is measuring up to your expectations. No matter what the level of experience, they need you, as a more experienced worker, to let them know if their work is officially “okay”. Periodically, examine what your apprentice has produced and make suggestions.
  • Informal Feedback shows up as comments or a light-hearted nudge. When using informal feedback be clear with your intent. The more direct, the more likely the student will perceive this to be an area of focus. Positive feedback should be given freely. Areas of growth should be presented in a private setting where the learner is not embarrassed. Feedback should be delivered as often as possible to encourage the student to continue to develop.
  • Formal Feedback should be prepared and delivered in a private meeting to discuss the apprentice’s strengths and areas for growth. Use specific examples of behavior whenever possible so learners have clear ideas of what areas need improvement (and as importantly what they are doing well).

Remember those goals you outlined before? A few weeks after the apprenticeship begins, see how well you and your apprentice are meeting those goals. Evaluation processes differ. It might be as formal as written evaluations every three weeks, or as informal as occasional lunches with the apprenticeship coordinator and/or the apprentice’s mentor. Some companies have the apprentice evaluate the experience and the company as well. Progress monitoring should be aligned to the organization’s culture and needs.

As a bonus, these evaluations will be handy later if you decide to interview a former apprentice for full‐time work, or to publicize how successful your program has been. Maintaining program popularity will require hard evidence that your organization is getting a return on its investment. 

Through this process organization’s can determine if apprentices are leaving the company having had a good experience, and provides valuable feedback to managers for program planning in following years. In addition to qualitative measures, several quantitative measures should be adopted. Some common measures include the number of apprentices that become full‐time employees; repeat requests for apprentices from managers; and growing numbers of apprentice applicants. To successfully measure your own program outcome, you should return to the stated program goals, and address those outcomes. 

With the job market experiencing a dearth of qualified employees, it only makes sense to investigate early those quality high school, community college, technical school and college students whom you can bring back later. Take on apprentices now and you’ll have a competitive advantage in recruiting the best workers–you’ll already be known to the employees you want most. 

New workers will already be trained for your workplace and loyal to your company, lowering training time, recruiting costs and turnover rates. You’ll build a reputation that will pay off with students, colleges and the community. And your company will save money while benefiting from the input of talented, enthusiastic, innovative people.

With all these advantages, you might find that you can’t afford not to do apprenticeships.

Recruiting Candidates

The number-one tip from those who have established programs is to get out there early! This cannot be overemphasized to organizations that want the best apprentices. Begin searching three to four months before you need a student to begin. The longer you accept applications, the better your chance of finding the best person for the job.

When you are out recruiting, develop relationships with local recruitment resources. Promote yourself with CTE coordinators, educators, and counselors in high schools and with local workforce and economic development offices. Attend job fairs, place ads in school papers and websites, and send materials to student organizations. Remember to choose your apprentices just as carefully as you would choose permanent employees. After all, hopefully they become permanent employees someday. You are making an investment; time and money will go into developing apprentices. It is important to find the right fit.

Another factor is the perspective and buy-in of families of the students you will be targeting. The students you will be pursuing likely have multiple priorities in their lives and choosing to become an apprentice will require careful consideration. Throughout the process it will be important to continually reinforce the value of the opportunity and the positive impact it could have on the student’s future, the family, as well as the business. Holding gatherings, town halls, socials, etc. are good mechanisms to gain the collective support of the community.


  • Is the apprentice truly motivated or does he or she just want a job?
  • Will the apprentice fit into your organization’s culture?
  • Does he or she have the level of experience you need? If not, do you have the means to train the apprentice to reach the desired level of experience?

Businesses that have had challenges identifying and recruiting apprentices can (and should) leverage the support of organizations like CareerWise Colorado.

Legal Considerations

As you begin to write your plan, here are some resources to help you navigate and better understand any legal barriers or challenges you may need to consider when planning for an apprentice:

Examples & Partners

Pinnacol Assurance, in partnership with CareerWise Colorado, has hosted a cohort of over 20 apprentices from Denver Public Schools since 2017. Their apprentices support 23 work teams–primarily in claims, underwriting, customer service, and information technology–and the company already sees a return on its investment through apprentices’ support of daily operations. 

Mark Tapy, Apprenticeship Program Manager
Julie Wilmes, Apprenticeship Program Lead

Skill Transfer Process
Apprentice Training Calendar 

Building off of the success of their Career Explore Summer Internship ProgramGreeley Evans School District 6 is launching a new apprenticeship program in partnership with Vestas. Students enrolled in the district’s Advanced Manufacturing Pathways courses will be paid an hourly wage and receive employee benefits while in the apprenticeship. 

Carolyn (CJ) Renaud, Business & Community Partnerships

Vestas Program Flyer
Career Explore Summer Internship Flyer

CareerWise Colorado is a business-led nonprofit implementing statewide, three-year modern youth apprenticeships for high school students. This year, the program launched its second cohort of over 120 new apprentices in Denver, Eagle County, and Grand Junction. CareerWise apprentices split their time between their traditional high school classroom and the workplace. They earn a wage while receiving hands-on experience where they can apply their classroom learning each week. At the end of the program, students will have:

– meaningful work experience
– a nationally-recognized industry certification
– a professional network
– the opportunity to earn debt-free college credit

Brad Revare, Director of Business Partnerships

CareerWise Business Case Studies

RK Construction’s Apprenticeship Program is a great opportunity for learners seeking a career in the skilled trades. In partnership with Emily Griffith Technical College, participants receive accredited training along with college credits. In addition, RK’s partnership with MSU Denver provides a pathway towards a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Project Management. Most recently, they now offer classes towards an Associated in Applied Science (A.A.S.) through Community College of Aurora.

Russ Sullivan, Manager of Learning & Development
Kristen Mullins, Learning, Development, & Outreach Specialist

CDLE’s local Business Services Representatives provide direct support to businesses who are interested in starting a registered apprenticeship program. This includes determining which occupations to register, as well as how to provide creditable apprenticeship candidates.


Michael Muszynski, Work-Based Learning Manager

List of Apprenticeable Occupations
Apprenticeship Evolution