New state agency puts Colorado’s belief in apprenticeships to work

Programs for jobs such as carpentry, construction, electrical work would register under State Apprenticeship Agency starting in 2023

By: - November 26, 2021 5:00 am

A crane looms over a construction site located in Denver’s Highland neighborhood on May 3, 2021. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado is in the process of creating a State Apprenticeship Agency, a move that some say will expand opportunities for residents to gain valuable skills. The agency will give the state, rather than the federal government, the authority to register apprenticeship programs in Colorado as well as establish standards for these programs.

Gov. Jared Polis on June 23 signed House Bill 21-1007, the legislation that will establish a Colorado State Apprenticeship Agency. The legislation appropriates $485,249 to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to fund the new agency.

Some occupations, such as carpentry, construction, musical instrument repair and electrical work, typically require an apprenticeship to begin, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics


Small cell technicians, IT systems administrators and hardware hackers were recently approved apprenticeship occupations, according to the government’s apprenticeship agency website. There are also approved apprenticeships in other fields, including software development, cybersecurity, massage therapy, animal care and cosmetology. The governmental agency maintains a list of approved apprenticeship occupations.

Colorado’s new state agency will not be an official state apprenticeship agency until it is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, said Katherine Keegan, the director of the Office of the Future of Work, which is overseeing the state apprenticeship agency. The Office of the Future of Work, created by a governor’s executive order in 2019, works to prepare for Colorado’s future economy with the rise of globalization and advances in technology.

The apprenticeship agency will work to promote programs so that more Coloradans can “access these critical training opportunities, which to-date have jump-started the careers of nearly 2 million Americans in the last decade,” Colorado House Democrats wrote in a May press release.

The new state agency would work with businesses and organizations offering apprenticeship programs in Colorado to provide technical assistance to help the businesses create and meet apprenticeship program standards, according to the press release.

Some proponents of the bill say more state control over apprenticeships may reduce the time it takes for an apprenticeship to be registered. 

State Reps. Tom Sullivan and David Ortiz, and state Sens. Jessie Danielson and Robert Rodriguez introduced the bill in February. Other Colorado government officials signed on as co-sponsors, including Reps. Brianna Titone and Alec Garnett, current House Speaker, and Sen. Kerry Donovan, who recently suspended her campaign for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District due to redistricting.

OA state vs. SAA state

Colorado is currently an office of apprenticeship state, or an OA state. Over the next year and a half, Colorado’s apprenticeship agency will go through the process of building the standards and its plan, which it will then submit to the Department of Labor for recognition. Once recognized, Colorado will become an official state apprenticeship agency, or SAA, state, Keegan said. 

In OA states, the registration and oversight of registered apprenticeship programs is done by federal DOL staff through state field offices, according to the American Association of Community Colleges website

In SAA states, the registration and oversight of registered apprenticeship programs in the state is done by the state. The Department of Labor must recognize a state as an SAA prior to the state becoming one. 

OA state staff members are federal employees, whereas SAA state staff members are state employees. 

All the registration and approvals for apprenticeship programs in Colorado will continue to happen through the DOL until Colorado’s state agency is recognized by the DOL. Once Colorado’s State Apprenticeship Agency is recognized by the DOL, it will register and be responsible for ensuring compliance of all of the registered apprenticeship programs in Colorado, Keegan said. 

Colorado aims to be recognized as an SAA state in 2023. The bill requires the State Apprenticeship Agency to begin accepting applications for the registration of apprenticeship programs on July 1, 2023. 

The timeline was created to allow for time to build standards with the State Apprenticeship Council and Interagency Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship, to submit the plan, and time for the DOL to approve it, Keegan wrote in an email. 

The State Apprenticeship Council oversees registered apprenticeship programs in Colorado and ensures that registered programs are compliant with state and federal laws and standards. The council will be made up of 16 members.

Colorado has been awarded “a few different” federal grants that support registered apprenticeship expansion, which the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the Office of the Future of Work is administrating to support the adoption of apprenticeship programs, Keegan said. 

Alec Garnett
Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, speaks at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 68 in Denver, where a launch event was held for Western States College of Construction on Nov. 8, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

If an employer in Colorado is interested in building a registered apprenticeship program now, they can contact one of Colorado’s apprenticeship consultants. The employer will need to go through the process of creating apprenticeship standards and work processes, and then the consultant will support the employer in submitting it to the DOL for approval, Keegan said. 

The main difference between what happens now and what will happen once the state apprenticeship agency is recognized by the DOL is that once recognized, Colorado employers will submit their apprenticeship standards and work processes to the state instead of the DOL for approval. 

Some people who testified against the bill during hearings cited concerns that creating a state apprenticeship agency will add more bureaucracy or make it more difficult for employers in Colorado to establish or get their apprenticeship programs registered. 

Robert Cheney, the president and general manager of RK Electrical, testified against the bill at the May 24 hearing on HB-1007. RK Electrical is one of seven businesses owned by RK Industries, which offers construction, manufacturing and service solutions, according to its website.

RK’s apprenticeship program was established 25 years ago as a way for unskilled employees to get a leg up in the construction industry, Cheney said at the hearing

“Proponents of the bill say that they are not trying to create a political system, but their focus on the structure of the SAA oversight, governing board, and described implementation does exactly that,” Cheney said. “It puts the oversight and decision-making for an apprenticeship program approval into the hands of a structured and appointed board.”

“As I talked about earlier, we have successful programs that we continue to improve,” Cheney said. “We comply with the current standards and are regularly reviewed. We feel if we become a (State Apprenticeship Council) state, if Colorado becomes a (State Apprenticeship Council) state, our program, along with other employer-based programs, will be in jeopardy.”

“As we implement, we’re making sure to engage stakeholders of all kinds, including and especially those that were opposed, to make sure that as we build our processes here, it is not acting more bureaucracy,” Keegan said during a phone interview. “The entire intent of (HB2-1007) is to make it easier, bringing it into the state, and having more local control over these processes, and more transparency for those processes.” 

It’s combining education, on the job learning, and engagement with the industry. Those competencies that are built over the course of the apprenticeship result in an industry-recognized credential.

– Katherine Keegan, Director of the Office of the Future of Work

Colorado employers are able to have apprenticeship programs that are not registered with the DOL, Keegan said. Registering an apprenticeship program can be a measure of a high quality apprenticeship program, because it shows that the program has achieved the standards required to be registered. Registering an apprenticeship program also allows the employer to access more funding to support apprenticeships, along with other resources. 

Apprenticeships and internships are not the same thing, Keegan said. Registered apprenticeship programs require competency development over the course of the apprenticeship, and apprentices are required to receive on the job learning, related instruction, and mentorship on the job. 

“It’s combining education, on the job learning, and engagement with the industry,” Keegan said. “Those competencies that are built over the course of the apprenticeship result in an industry-recognized credential.” 

Internships are not necessarily paid, and don’t have the same formal structure that apprenticeships do. 

Colorado apprenticeships

The Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee trains apprentices for Plumbers Local 3, a union of plumbers in Colorado, Wyoming, and Missouri, and when a contractor needs an apprentice, the contractor will contact Local 3, and then Local 3 will contact the JATC, said Johnnie Norris, the Denver Plumbers JATC training director. 

Applicants apply for apprenticeships through the JATC, which is a group of eight people who interview apprentice applicants. The JATC essentially works for the union and supplies it with apprentices as needed, Norris said. 

The JATC has a set of standards it must follow and is regulated by the DOL, Norris said. 

Apprenticeship applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent, have a current, valid driver’s license, and meet the minimum requirements of an assessment. 

Rocky Mountain MCA is a trade association of different companies, and has five apprenticeship training centers: two in Denver, one in Colorado Springs, one in Grand Junction, and one in Wyoming. There are a little over 1,100 apprentices enrolled at the five different centers, said Dave Davia, the executive vice president and CEO of Rocky Mountain MCA. 

Member companies can send recruits to one of the training centers and sponsor the recruit to become trained, Davia said. 

Rocky Mountain MCA partnered with two other trade associations and their apprenticeship centers, and together, they formed Western States College of Construction, which officially launched on Nov. 8, and has 10 training centers. 

“(Colorado’s State Apprenticeship Agency) is a positive step for us, it’s local control,” Davia said. “We haven’t seen changes yet, we don’t anticipate a lot of changes, we just anticipate more interaction at the state level between our apprenticeship programs and the state.”

Dave Davia
Dave Davia, the executive vice president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association, speaks at a launch event in Denver for Western States College of Construction on Nov. 8, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

While WSCC officially opened this month, one of the apprenticeship programs has been in place for over 100 years.

WSCC offers apprenticeships in five fields: Electrical, HVAC-R, pipefitting, plumbing, and sheet metal. The requirements, cost and length of program vary, but all programs require the apprentice to be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or a GED completion certificate, and a current, valid driver’s license. 

It takes four to five years to go from being an apprentice to being a journeyman, Davia said. A journeyman is a person who has completed an apprenticeship. 

The average yearly total compensation upon graduating at WSCC is over $100,000, according to WSCC’s website. WSCC has a 98% average placement rate.

The numbers on the website are a combination from the 10 different training centers, Davia said. 

November is Colorado Apprenticeship Month. “Apprenticeships will be key to Colorado’s economic recovery,” the executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Joe Barela said in a press release. “These programs not only help employers find the talent they need to grow in a tight labor market, they also provide workers with opportunities to gain in-demand skills while earning a paycheck. Apprenticeships help us create a more equitable economy in which all workers can advance their careers.”

In his apprenticeship-month proclamation, Polis said that apprenticeship programs play a critical role in the state’s economic recovery, as well as help employers address their skill gaps and offer workers paid, on-the-job training. 

Colorado’s State Apprenticeship Agency will be housed in the CDLE’s Office of Future Work. 

“Apprenticeships are a powerful model that connects people to quality training and jobs and help them prepare for the future of work and allows businesses to get the talent they need,” Keegan said in the press release. 

“Apprenticeship programs are a proven pathway for workers and students to learn the skills they’ll need to work in growing industries,” Ortiz said in a June press release from the Colorado House Democrats. 

All DOL registered apprenticeship programs require companies to set up a mentoring structure for the apprentice to receive the training he or she needs to be successful, according to an article written by Denise Miller, the state coordinator for apprenticeships. Companies are also required to determine the wage scale apprentices will receive throughout the program, meaning apprentices will know the starting salary and when they will get a raise prior to beginning the program.

Some reasons for creating an apprenticeship program include higher employee retention, highly skilled employees, and high safety in the workplace, wrote Miller.

There are five major components of the apprenticeship program, according to the Apprenticeship website

  • It’s a paid job: Employers commit to wage progression as the apprentice gains new skills. 
  • On-the-job learning: Apprentices in the programs receive a combination of on-the-job learning and classroom training. The DOL has created training plans that employers use, or employers can develop their own. 
  • Classroom learning: Employers are able to pick an internal to the workplace or external provider to provide apprentices with classroom learning, which can be in person or done virtually. 
  • Mentorship: Apprentices form an “internal mentorship program” with a professional who can provide one-on-one support to the apprentice. 
  • Credentials: All registered apprenticeship programs guarantee that an apprentice will receive a “portable, nationally-recognized credential” upon the apprentice’s completion of the program. 


Ninety-four percent of apprentices who complete an apprenticeship program retain employment, and have an average annual salary of $70,000, according to an Office of Apprenticeship fact sheet, which was last updated in September 2020. 

In fiscal year 2020 — Oct. 1, 2019 through Sept. 30, 2020 — over 221,000 people across the country entered the apprenticeship system, according to the U.S. Apprenticeship program within the U.S. Employment and Training Administration. Over 80,000 apprentices graduated from the apprenticeship system during the 2020 fiscal year.

Employers who register their apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor show prospective job seekers that their program meets national quality standards, according to the fact sheet. 

The U.S. Department of Labor found that, between 2011 and 2020, the number of new apprentices grew by 70% nationwide, according to a press release from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

Senate Bill 19-171 requires the CDLE to create and maintain a resource directory of registered apprenticeships in Colorado.


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