Reaching the “Pinnacol” with apprenticeships

Colorado Department of Higher Education

As businesses prepare for a digital future, industry executives are turning to an old-school model: apprenticeships. At a Colorado Succeeds roundtable this July, a team from Pinnacol Assurance explained how partnering with CareerWise, Colorado’s statewide youth apprenticeship program, has been even more successful than anticipated.

Based in Denver, Pinnacol Assurance provides workers’ compensation insurance to 57,000 businesses in Colorado. To continue their growth, CEO Phil Kalin and his team knew they had to tackle two longstanding personnel challenges: retaining top talent and finding workers with an up-to-date tech skillset. They came up with an unorthodox solution.

In the summer of 2017, Kalin called CareerWise and hired two full-time staff members to design a youth apprenticeship program. After several months of planning, the company welcomed its first cohort of 23 apprentices from Denver-area high schools last August. Since they came on board, the apprentices have impressed Pinnacol staff with their poise and work ethic.

The 2017 cohort of Pinnacol Assurance apprentices pose with program manager Mark Tapy, second row on the right.

“We are already seeing a ROI,” Kalin told the audience. “The way [the apprentices] have integrated with our teams, the work that they’re doing, they are flying. They are well regarded as peers and professionals in our organization.”

A win-win for students and businesses

As Pinnacol apprenticeship program manager Mark Tapy explained, the CareerWise model propels students toward their long-term goals whether they continue their education or jump directly into the workforce. Over three years, students rack up high school and college credit, earn a working wage and study along different business tracks, such as information technology and customer service. In their final year, students work three days a week at Pinnacol and graduate with an associate degree in hand.

Although students may not have envisioned working in insurance, they’ve quickly latched onto the many opportunities available at Pinnacol. A few apprentices stopped by the roundtable to share their stories.

CareerWise is bridging the gap between industry and education through modern youth apprenticeship.

Gabriel, who works with the underwriting team, said he was immediately drawn to work-based learning model. “One of my long term goals is to have a stable job,” he said. “Pinnacol has great benefits, and it’s close to my house.”

Gabriel’s colleague, Brielynn, said she is gaining real-world experience as an IT apprentice. “I’m expected to work at a higher level,” she said, noting that apprenticeships offer a richer educational experience than internships. “Now I can take what I’ve learned here to other places.”

For Eric, an apprentice with the rapid improvement team, the program has helped him get back on track.

“I wasn’t a star student. Since I’ve been here, it’s been a complete 180,” he said. “The program gives people like me a chance to go to college. You see people who are college-bound as apprentices, or people like me who were struggling and assumed to be college dropout. It shows that it’s not just one specific group of kids that can thrive here.”

While Tapy and Kalin are proud of the impact they’ve made in their community, they’re equally thrilled with the business results. Among Pinnacol apprentice supervisors, 80 percent report their apprentice always adds valuable support to their teams, and that after just nine months in their roles, they are nearly as efficient as full-time employees. For such an impressive level of contribution, Pinnacol’s apprentices only require about 15 minutes of supervision per hour of work.

Colorado is leading an apprenticeship evolution in fields as diverse as information technology, financial services and healthcare.

On top of these outcomes, the program offers professional development training for junior Pinnacol employees, Tapy noted. Because each apprentice requires a personal coach and mentor, rising leaders in the company get a chance to hone their management skills.

“Our apprentices are part of the family,” Kalin said. “They are part of the fabric that is serving our customers right now and are part of our future.”

Success at any size

As the roundtable concluded, CareerWise CEO Noel Ginsburg congratulated Pinnacol staff and urged fellow business leaders to consider the apprenticeship model. CareerWise staff provide one-on-one support to help “right-size” programs, he said, and tailor apprenticeships to meet a company’s unique needs.

“Whether you have a business of five or 5,000 employees, this model will make your business stronger,” Ginsburg said.

To help meet changing workforce demands, Colorado is leading an apprenticeship evolution in fields as diverse as information technology, financial services and healthcare. There are more than 450 apprenticeship programs in Colorado, and the number continues to grow.

Founded in 2015, CareerWise is the first modern youth apprenticeship system in the nation and provides high school students the opportunity to earn a nationally-recognized industry certification and debt-free college credit as they work alongside industry leaders.

Interested in launching your own apprenticeship program? Get started at



Colorado Department of Higher Education

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