health care students working on mannequin

For all community colleges, talent development for local industries is an important part of their mission.

And for Front Range Community College, a key part of that effort for the healthcare industry involves apprenticeships that prepare students to hit the ground running as medical assistants, sterile processing technicians, and pharmacy technicians when they graduate from their certificate or associate-degree programs.

Apprenticeships Aren’t New to FRCC, But They Are Expanding

While FRCC has offered apprenticeships through its Medical Assisting Certificate and Sterile Processing Certificate programs in the past, a recent $12 million grant to the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) will help expand and systematize the apprenticeship program at FRCC and elsewhere in Colorado—and help students acquire jobs that allow them to “earn while they learn” with local healthcare companies.

The grant, which was awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor in June 2019, went to the Colorado Department of Higher Education in partnership with CCCS and organizations like Kaiser Permanente, Centura Health, HealthOne/HCA, UCHealth and Colorado Rural Health Center. In the time since, other companies have partnered with FRCC as well, including Associates in Family Medicine – the first apprenticeship site for medical assistants — Arbor Family Medicine, Boulder Community Health, and Boulder Medical Center.

“What makes me so excited about the apprenticeship model is that FRCC students often work in jobs while they put themselves through school,” says Chris Heuston, director of the healthcare apprenticeship programs at FRCC—and before that, a longtime instructor and chair of the Allied Health Department. “But if they obtain an apprenticeship, they’re able to work in jobs that let them apply what they learn in class in a job setting. For the students, this eases the transition into a career. For the employers, this shrinks the training time for a new worker significantly.”

A Major Benefit: Retention

One of the biggest perks for the employers that are part of the healthcare apprenticeship program is better retention of a skilled workforce.

“We have some employers who have students work four days a week, take class on campus one day a week, and do other course work online,” says Chris. “We have others that recruit apprentices from a pool of students who have completed one semester of a two-semester program.” Some students—such as the Sterile Processing students—might even take classes on site at a company as opposed to going to the FRCC campus.

But it isn’t just retention that appeals to companies that hire apprentices. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are eligible to receive wage support for apprentices for up to four years.

Apprenticeships Are Competitive

FRCC is one of several Colorado community colleges offering healthcare apprenticeships to students, and some employers have apprentices working in different offices or locations while attending the community college in their vicinity.

“The employer chooses the apprentices, but we facilitate,” Chris explains. “We’re actively working to establish new partnerships with area hospitals and healthcare organizations because we want to expand this program and make apprenticeships available to any qualified student who wants one.

FRCC will “customize” based on employer wishes. For example, some may want a pool of applicants. Others may want FRCC to schedule information sessions.

“We’d love to incorporate apprenticeships into some of our other programs such as the Dental Assisting program,” Chris says. “This model really professionalizes these typically entry-level positions and standardizes the work-based training that students receive.”

Colorado is the Only State to Receive a Grant

Healthcare is big business in Colorado, with the state’s website reporting that the industry contributes to one in three job openings. From 2012 to 2017, Denver added 43,250 healthcare jobs to its existing 222,700 workers. That adds up to 10 percent of the job growth in the region. Colorado was the only state to receive such a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Two individual community colleges in other states also received grants.

Chris says that the healthcare apprenticeship program is a win-win for both employers and students.

“Companies can vastly increase their retention, and the related instruction at FRCC can be tailored to meet a company’s needs,” she says. “We’re really excited to continue to build a great pipeline of potential employees for some of Colorado’s leading healthcare companies.”

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