Governor Polis surrounded by FRCC students and graduates

Students invited to tell the governor about their work-based learning experiences.

Last week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis visited Front Range Community College’s Westminster Campus to host a discussion with FRCC students who are enrolled in work-based learning programs through the school. (Keep reading to see what they had to say.)

Just the day before, Governor Polis had issued an Executive Order building on successful apprenticeship programs and expanding work-based learning opportunities for in-demand fields. Here are a couple of the options FRCC provides students to learn in the field.

Earn While You Learn

Apprenticeships combine real-world, hands-on experience with related classroom instruction. And they prepare students for well-paying jobs, all while earning a competitive salary.

Apprenticeships have been a strong focus for the college for the last five years—and FRCC’s offerings have grown by leaps and bounds from its first apprenticeship in 2018. So much so, that FRCC was the first college in Colorado to be designated a US Department of Labor Apprenticeship Ambassador.

FRCC has now trained 439 apprentices in 11 different occupations—in partnership with 36 local employers. A couple of our successful graduates joined the governor for his roundtable to share their apprenticeship journey.

Learn more about apprenticeships at FRCC.

Free Job Training

Thanks to Governor Polis and the Colorado General Assembly, FRCC also now offers 30 degrees and certificates in high-demand fields—at zero cost to students—through Care Forward and Career Advance Colorado.

LONGMONT,CO-SEPTEMBER, 9:Students watch Tamara Jenkins give a shot to Emily Kilcoyne during class. Front Range Community College medical assistant students learn skills to prepare them for the workplace. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Over the last year, almost 1,000 students have received Care Forward Colorado funding through Front Range Community College. And already this semester, more than 1,500 students are enrolled in our no-cost programs that are covered by both Career Advance and Care Forward Colorado.

Some of the students who came to speak with the governor were from these free job training programs. “We all want to say a sincere thank you to Governor Polis for his ongoing support for these programs and for our students here at FRCC,” said VP of Academic Affairs Rebecca Woulfe.

Student Voices

Eleven students from a number of different academic disciplines joined the governor’s roundtable to describe their experiences with work-based learning. They talked about challenges they’ve overcome—and how state financial support for their education has impacted their lives and helped them succeed.

Crystal Cruz recently started FRCC’s pharmacy technician program, which is one of the no-cost programs covered by the state. “I wouldn’t be here without the free program,” she told Governor Polis.

Bennet Gaibler is an FRCC graduate who now works as a surgical technician for UC Health. “I’m doing surgeries every day, helping people,” he says. “At my hospital alone, there are four people from [FRCC’s surgical technology program]—out of 12—and it’s fun working with them because they’re at the same level I am.”

Real-World Experience

Shea Swikle started the sterile processing program at FRCC in fall 2022 and is now a certified sterile processing technologist for Advent Health. “I now have a job that has demand. A lot of people in my generation got a four-year degree but didn’t end up in workforce way they should,” he said. “They got a lot of debt though,” added Governor Polis.

Two students from FRCC’s geospatial science (GIS) program described some of the field-based projects they worked on while in school—like a survey of solar power opportunities in Westminster.

Three students from FRCC’s multimedia graphic design program came to share their experiences. They talked about how doing internships at FRCC’s campus-based design studios helped get them ready for real-world work.

On-Ramp to Your Career

“Having an on-ramp to your career puts us at such an advantage over students who just took classes,” said student Sarah Enochson. “My own kids are in college and I’m telling them, ‘You need to get this experience. It’s as important as any of the classes you take.’”

Laura Pardee is in her final semester of FRCC’s forestry tech program. She did an internship with the Larimer Conservation District and said it’s been “incredible.” She says the skills she learned in her classes—and got to apply on the job—have propelled her from the internship into a career.

Laura recalls that one of her FRCC professors helped connect her to the internship. “Being able to do this internship in my chosen field has really solidified what I’m going to do moving forward,” she said. “Not only do I love my job, but I’ve also got a solid career.”

Exploring Options

“It also gives you the experience to try something and discover if you don’t love it,” Governor Polis pointed out. Early childhood education student Brynne Nodolf agreed. “Until you have experience working in a child care center, there are a lot of things we don’t know about our chosen profession. Knowing what you don’t want to do is really important.”

Student Will Foster from FRCC’s automotive technology program also shared how his experience with work-based learning is helping jump-start his new career. “I started as an intern at Stang Automotive, and that really helped with my spatial awareness and ability to do task management,” he said.

“I know that I’m learning the basics in my classes, and that’s super important to go into the job—so that when you go into more complex situations, you’re ready for them.”

What Can We Do Better?

The governor asked the participants for their suggestions for ways the state and colleges could improve opportunities for students. Many of them responded that more funding and resources are needed to hire instructors and improve facilities.

One suggested providing more incentives for employers who offer apprenticeships and internships—and the governor said his team is already working on tax credits and other ways to encourage businesses to provide more work-based learning opportunities.

Removing Barriers

Governor Polis ended by pointing out that the job market is currently very good for job seekers—but challenging for businesses trying to hire employees.

“It’s a challenge systemically, but it’s a good time to find a job,” he said. “[In Colorado], we’re focused on removing barriers to education—like cost—and also giving people opportunities to work in their field while learning.”

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