CareerWise Colorado Study



Apprenticeship programs have been more limited in the United States than they have been in many European countries, both in the numbers of individuals and the number and type of employers who participate in them. Only a few thousand apprenticeship programs are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor and these are mostly in construction and trades. This situation is beginning to change, however, and the apprenticeship model is beginning to gain traction in this country.

Colorado is at the forefront of this emerging apprenticeship movement. Inspired by the Swiss model of apprenticeship, the CareerWise Colorado initiative seeks to enlist hundreds of employers from many sectors to employ thousands of high school students in the nation’s first large-scale youth apprenticeship program. If a two-year pilot test starting in 2017 goes well, the plan is to expand the model to a statewide scale, and eventually to expand it nationwide.

MDRC is conducting a process and implementation study of the planning and pilot phase of CareerWise Colorado, documenting various stakeholders’ experiences implementing this ambitious model. One of the central objectives is to help the CareerWise organization understand the factors that either impede or promote the smooth implementation of this complex initiative, so that it can improve the program in the future. If the pilot test is successful, MDRC hopes to conduct a study to estimate the impacts of the initiative on both short- and longer-term outcomes such as the employment and earnings of apprentices and the rate at which they earn postsecondary credentials.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

CareerWise Colorado — a partnership of schools, school districts, employers, and training providers in the greater Denver area led by an intermediary of the same name — is pilot testing a Swiss-inspired youth apprenticeship model. CareerWise’s overall objective is to meet the needs of Colorado employers for skilled workers while improving the labor-market outcomes of young Coloradans. The goal for the three years of the pilot test is to recruit and train 1,000 high school students and place them with 500 employers by 2020.

CareerWise works on several fronts to accomplish these goals, including:

  • Enlisting employers and preparing them to offer high-quality youth apprenticeships

  • Enlisting districts, charter schools, and charter-management organizations and engaging them to recruit students and prepare them to succeed in apprenticeships

  • Developing and supporting training centers (school districts, community colleges, universities, or private providers) to ensure equitable student access to high-quality apprenticeships in high-growth sectors

  • Aligning goals and processes across partners to ensure efficient and effective collaboration

  • Developing a vision and implementation plan for the infrastructure that would be needed to support this model on a statewide scale

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

This initial phase of MDRC’s study of CareerWise has four goals:

  • Help CareerWise understand the factors that impede or promote smooth implementation, so that the organization can adjust the program as the pilot test proceeds

  • In collaboration with the CareerWise team, develop a theory of action for the initiative along with a framework to measure benchmarks in implementation for the pilot test

  • Conduct a study of the program’s implementation in high schools, community colleges, workplaces, and training centers, primarily using focus groups and interviews with important stakeholder groups including the CareerWise team, steering committee members, employers, schools and districts, and students/apprentices

  • Assess the feasibility of conducting a study of the impacts of CareerWise on apprentice and employer outcomes