Ever dream about starting a new career… only to then give up because going back to school would cost too much and take too long? You might be surprised to hear that a number of industries will actually pay you to learn the ropes while on the job.

November is Colorado Apprenticeship Month, which recognizes the important role that apprenticeships play in helping Coloradoans learn sought-after skills while earning an income.

In fact, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said this about the importance of apprenticeships: “As we work on Colorado’s economic recovery, apprenticeships can help workers of all ages and backgrounds gain in-demand skills while also earning a paycheck. Employers also benefit, as apprenticeships offer them an opportunity to develop the exact skills they need to grow in a changing, fast-moving economy.”

A Chance for a Career Change

For Emily Martin, enrolling in FRCC’s Sterile Processing certificate and apprenticeship program gave her everything she needed to make a career change quickly.

Headshot of Emily

Going into the COVID-19 pandemic, Emily had 18 years of experience as a caregiver for seniors. She’d been working in the field since high school, but in 2008 when she moved to Colorado from her home state of South Dakota, she was determined to earn a college degree—something she’d held off on until she knew what path she wanted to pursue.

She worked toward her degree in international affairs at the University of Colorado while working full time as caregiver at a senior living facility in Boulder. She ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in 2015.

“I’d always been interested in politics and international affairs,” Emily says. “So, my goal was to work in global public health or community health in some capacity.” But after graduating from CU, Emily decided against taking on more student loans to pursue the master’s degree she would need for such a career.

Nursing Prerequisites

health care students working on mannequin

Emily started thinking about how to marry her passions with her experience—and she came back to health care. “I started taking nursing prerequisites at FRCC in 2015 and 2016,” she says.

Her new plan to was to become a nurse. But when she applied to the FRCC nursing program, the applicant pool was large—and she was not admitted. Twice. Disappointed, Emily focused her attention back onto her two jobs (as a senior caregiver and a chiropractic assistant).

Senior care was something she had always loved, but Emily struggled to make ends meet. “It has been hard to earn a living wage,” she says. “That’s why I kept trying to figure out new possibilities.”

In fall 2019, she began working as a care coordinator for a home health care company that primarily assisted patients recovering from surgeries.

Then Along Came COVID-19

When the pandemic shut down Colorado (and the rest of the US) in March 2020, Emily was furloughed from her home health care position—and soon laid off. “Honestly, it was a low point and I was trying to figure out what to do,” she says.

“I searched for jobs online all the time and kept seeing openings in sterile processing. I researched it pretty thoroughly and thought it looked like my kind of job—helping keep patients safe, still in health care, working within a very structured process—but I didn’t have the qualifications or training.”

“It looked like my kind of job… but I didn’t have the qualifications or training.”

Finally, an opportunity arose for Emily to become a senior caregiver again that fall, and she jumped on it. “I was happy to be working again and it was back to my roots. But in the back of my mind was the idea of sterile processing.”

Applying for an Apprenticeship

Six months later, in spring 2021, Emily started to think about sterile processing again and researched the training she would need to pursue it. “That research led me right to FRCC, which I realized had a sterile processing certificate program,” she says.

This time there was no hesitation. As soon as she was hired for the apprenticeship, Emily left her job in May and started the condensed summer session in June.

Hands-On Learning from Day One

Unlike many other certificate programs, sterile processing at FRCC offers a built-in apprenticeship with a Centura Health hospital or medical facility that students can apply for. It’s one of several health care certificate programs at FRCC that offers the opportunity for student-apprentices to take their courses while working in their new field—and getting paid for it.

So, Monday through Friday, Emily worked at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital as a sterile processing apprentice. On Sundays, she spent all day in a classroom—at Avista Adventist Hospital—learning from an FRCC instructor. “I was incredibly impressed with the program,” Emily says.

“You get to start working right away, so you’d learn something in class one day and do it at work that week.”

“It was immediate practical experience, which let us see concepts in action. Hands-on learning has always been how I learn best. I felt the material was reinforced much quicker.”

A Living Wage Right Away

The ability to “earn while you learn” was also important for Emily. “The scary thing about changing careers is that you are either in school while exhausting yourself working full time, or you have to step out of the workforce to get trained,” she says.

“This was training and education simultaneously.”

In addition, Emily qualified to receive a grant to help cover living expenses, and Centura Health paid almost all of her tuition. Apprentices in FRCC’s programs also often receive:

  • Financial assistance for books and exam fees
  • Transportation scholarships
  • Childcare reimbursement
  • Supplies needed for on-the-job learning

Four Health Care Apprenticeship Programs… and Growing

FRCC has graduated 140 health care apprentices since fall 2019. There are four health care programs at the college that offer apprenticeships:

Students complete their apprenticeships with Centura Health as well as Boulder Community Health, Boulder Medical Center, Arbor Family Medicine, Associates in Family Medicine and Kaiser Permanente—and beginning in January 2022, UC Health.

Hired in September as a Full-Time Employee

In September 2021, Emily completed her apprenticeship and sat for the Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) exam—and she passed with flying colors. After interviewing with Avista Adventist Hospital for a sterile processor job, she was hired for a permanent position with a wage increase—and now works with two other recent FRCC graduates.

“I love it,” Emily says of her new career. “I love that I’m still helping people, but in a new way, and the work doesn’t really feel like work to me!” She recommends others check out FRCC’s health care apprenticeship programs without question.

“My life has changed so much in 2021 because of this program, and I feel like there are so many people out there who were like me: wanting or needing to start a new career but efficiently and cost-effectively. I finally have a stable career that I know I’m going to love for a long time.”

Interested in Apprenticeships?

Outside of health care, FRCC also offers an arborist apprenticeship, which gives students continuing education credit. The college is also currently working to expand apprenticeship offerings in IT and cybersecurity. And new manufacturing apprenticeship programs are in the works too.

The apprenticeship model is a win-win for both employers and students. Companies can increase their employee retention and select highly motivated students—and students are able to get paid to learn the skills they need to start a new career.

If you’re a student interested in finding an apprenticeship, find out more here.

If you’re an employer curious about starting an apprenticeship at your organization, find out more here.

To learn more about the health care apprenticeships at FRCC, please contact Chris Heuston at chris.heuston@frontrange.edu or 303.678.3830.

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