(Photo: Courtesy of Front Range Community College)

Renewed Confidence

Through Front Range Community College’s (FRCC) medical assistant apprenticeship program, Antunette “Toni” Scruggs not only found a promising career path, but renewed confidence to pursue her dream.  

For a long time, I’ve wanted to get into medicine, and I always felt like it was for smart people or rich people,” said Scruggs, who trains with Centura Health. “With this program, I’ve found medicine really is for me, and this introduction is just the beginning.”  

Scruggs is one of hundreds of students participating in FRCC’s healthcare apprenticeship programs, which have grown rapidly since 2019. To celebrate their progress, the college brought together industry partners, FRCC staff, and apprentices for a breakfast recognizing National Apprenticeship Week on November 17. 

Woman speaking in a classroom.

Toni Scruggs, FRCC student, is a medical assistant apprentice with Centura Health.

I see apprenticeships as the innovative approach to make sure we are skilling up our workforce,” said Dr. Colleen Simpson, president of FRCC. “We are giving our students, especially our adult learners, the opportunity to build skills so they can be successful.” 

Growing Apprenticeships for Today’s Learners

Across its 13 colleges, the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is creating thousands of apprenticeship positions to close skills gaps in high-growth industries. Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training and classroom instruction while paying learners a living wage—a model that has been proven to boost employee morale and retention, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL).   

FRCC leveraged funding from CCCS’s Colorado Healthcare Experiential Pathways to Success (CO-HELPS) grant to expand the first registered apprenticeship program in sterile processing to five additional occupations, including surgical technician, pharmacy technician, and medical assistant. Since 2019, FRCC has taught 263 apprentices working with 21 industry partners.  

“The apprentices tell me all the time, ‘I’m so excited to get a paycheck,’” said Sheena Martin, an apprenticeship coordinator with FRCC’s Westminster campus. “It’s different than what they’ve known in a previous traditional model of education, where they get trained and then go to work.” 

Over the course of the program, learners complete 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and at least 20 hours of classroom instruction each week. Upon completion, apprentices earn a FRCC degree or certificate, industry certification, and certification from the USDOL, Martin said. They also qualify for wage increases that motivate them to stay with the organization.   

Line of women sitting in chairs speaking.

FRCC industry partners talk about benefits of the apprenticeship model.

FRCC’s work to develop apprenticeships outside the skilled trades—where they originated—is also diversifying registered programs, said Chris Heuston, FRCC’s apprenticeship program director. About 82% of FRCC healthcare apprentices are women and half are non-white, compared to 9% and 10% nationally. 

Students who may never have had a chance to get an education are able to come in because they’re earning a wage,” Heuston added. “In our first cohort with Banner Medical Group, every single apprentice was a first-generation college student, and 100% of them earned a Front Range certificate. One thought she would never go to college, and now she’s this champion apprentice who is so excited about education.” 

 

 

Students who may never have had a chance to get an education are able to come in because they’re earning a wage. – Chris Heuston, FRCC apprenticeship program director
 

Growing Apprenticeships for Today’s Learners

The model has been a boon for Boulder Community Health said Kathy Bragg, a registered nurse and apprentice educator. Because FRCC designs the curriculum—and apprentices learn techniques on site—healthcare facilities can stay focused on patient care. It also allows apprentices to marry the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed to become effective healthcare workers.  

“You can do all the book learning you want, but when you get into the real world, it’s totally different,” Bragg said. “Having apprentices in the clinics right now, while they’re going to school, is huge.” 

Photo of two women holding an award posing in front of the camera smiling.

Chris Heuston, left, and Sheena Martin have helped rapidly grow Front Range Community College’s healthcare apprenticeship programs.

All this translates to serious return on investment. For every dollar an organization spends on an apprenticeship, they earn almost $1.50 back through improved recruitment and retention, Heuston said. It’s why Centura Health is going all-in on the model, taking its program to Community College of Denver and Arapahoe Community College. 

Apprenticeships are “just the most efficient use of the apprentices’ time, the school’s time, and the employer’s time and investment,” said Jamie Pearson, talent partnership consultant lead with Centura, who also serves on Colorado’s State Apprenticeship Council advisory committee. “That is possible through the partnership with Front Range and their willingness to come to the table.” 

Although the financial savings are compelling, Pearson said the real impact comes through transforming Coloradans’ lives. 

“We are giving [apprentices] access to programs in meaningful careers with a living wage that can support themselves and their families. They can grow in their career, and they can make a difference. At the end of the day, that is what I always come back to.”

We are giving [apprentices] access to programs in meaningful careers with a living wage that can support themselves and their families. They can grow in their career, and they can make a difference. At the end of the day, that is what I always come back to. – Jamie Pearson, talent partnership consultant lead with Centura

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