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Excellence in Early Childhood Education Through Apprenticeships

CMU Tech leverages Colorado Department of Early Childhood grant to address childcare shortages

One of the first pieces of advice many parents-to-be are given these days is to get on waiting lists for childcare as soon as possible. The childcare landscape in Colorado is fraught with greater demand than many communities can meet and the launch of Universal Preschool Colorado during the 2023-2024 school year will likely exacerbate existing staffing shortages.

CMU Tech Early Education Apprenticeship Specialist Mindy Gutierrez explained, “A lot of childcare facilities couldn’t open up all of their classrooms this year because they didn’t have qualified staff.”

With many families struggling to find high-quality care, CMU Tech is committed to building an oasis in the childcare desert by offering an innovative early childhood educator apprenticeship program to increase the number of qualified staff in the local community which will help families, support local businesses and create higher paying job opportunities.

Funding for this apprenticeship comes through a two-year grant from the state’s Early Childhood Education Department (CDEC). It is only one of three pilot programs of its kind in the state and Colorado is only one of six states in the country that are offering this early childhood apprenticeship opportunity.

CMU Tech already offers day, night and online programs for individuals pursuing early childhood certificates and degrees, but the apprenticeship option allows learners to earn college credit while getting a paycheck at a local childcare facility and students can also earn college credit for eligible past work experience. The apprenticeship program is open to students of all ages from high school juniors and seniors that are pursuing concurrent enrollment to adults looking to enter the field or earn advanced early childhood education credentials.

To receive their Child Development Associate (CDA) National Apprenticeship Certificate from the United States Department of Labor through this apprenticeship, students must complete 2,000 hours of on-the-job training as well as 190 hours of related technical instruction through state training and early childhood education courses at CMU Tech. The apprenticeship is competency-based, so students can move as quickly or as slowly as needed to complete their hours. As an added incentive, the CDEC grant also provides monetary bonuses as students reach benchmarks in the program, and students also receive grant-funded pay raises as they progress through their apprenticeship.

Local childcare businesses also benefit from the program by filling open jobs with apprentices now as well as hiring and retaining students once they complete the program. They also benefit by receiving wage reimbursement to decrease their payroll while apprentices complete their hours. To date, 18 workforce partners have hosted apprentices including private, public and family childcare homes.

“Participating employers can get a fifty-percent wage reimbursement for apprentices in the program through the grant and a lot of employers also opted to partner with other local organizations that covered the other fifty-percent wage reimbursement. So, for a period of time, they were paying zero payroll for their apprentice employees,” Gutierrez explained.

In addition to the financial benefits of the apprenticeship, the CMU Tech early childhood education faculty is committed to building strong relationships with students and ensuring that each student feels a strong sense of belonging and feels supported throughout the program. Each apprentice is partnered with an active and supportive mentor teacher who is there to help answer questions and provide feedback while on the job.

Technical Instructor of Early Childhood Education and Primary Investigator for the CDEC grant Vail Shoultz-McCole explained, “Our program cares about our apprentices and building relationships so that we can best support them. We work to find additional supports they may need for their career success beyond finding a paid apprenticeship facility placement. This program acts as an entry point where students can continue to earn higher degrees which leads to greater opportunities for career advancement and income.”

Gutierrez echoed Shoultz-McCole and added, “We’ve been knocking on doors and saying, ‘What has stopped you before from getting your certificate or getting your credential? How can we help you? What are the barriers you are facing?’ We make sure to let prospective students know that we can offer wraparound services, English language learner support, help with tuition and scholarships and provide mentorship.”

With many childcare facilities in need of bilingual employees, and with the ability to add a bilingual certification to their national credentials through the apprenticeship program, CMU Tech has worked hard to make the program accessible to everyone in the community, including English language learners and first-generation college students. Students in the apprenticeship program receive technology instruction to successfully navigate online learning components, some courses are now available in both Spanish and English and study sessions are provided to prepare students for the bilingual certification exam.

In total, 26 students have enrolled in the program since its inception, and the first five completers were recognized on June 27 at a celebration held at CMU Tech’s Chez Lena restaurant. Two of these completers also earned their bilingual certification. There are 21 students still in the program working towards their national certificate and retention has been impeccable to date.

The program has funding secured through 2024 and is currently accepting students. Shoultz-McCole is optimistic that funding may be extended far into the future given the program’s success but encourages individuals to enroll as soon as possible to take advantage of all the benefits available through the grant.

If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling in the early childhood education apprenticeship program, please reach out to Mindy Gutierrez via phone at 970.255.2726 or via email.

The program is also looking for additional workforce partners. Both public and private childcare providers in need of capable staff should reach out to Mindy Gutierrez to learn more about the benefits of program participation. Providers in Mesa, Montrose, Delta, San Miguel and Garfield counties are currently eligible to participate.


Written by Giff Walters