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Seven ways apprentices can strengthen your workplace

June 11, 2024
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The prospect of having an apprentice can be daunting, especially due to the amount of time required to train and mentor. That leads some companies to take an altruistic view — considering it an investment in their community, fostering the next generation of workers. That's an important byproduct for Pinnacol, and we are proud of our role in accelerating the career paths of bright young students.

However, we have also been energized by the many unexpected benefits enjoyed by our workforce as a result of our apprenticeship program. Here are seven advantages we've realized, which we hope will inspire other companies to create apprenticeship programs of their own.

1. Improved talent acquisition through a robust pipeline

What could be better than recruiting new team members who are ready to hit the ground running on day one?

Our apprentices have already coalesced around our mission, experienced the work and built relationships with their teammates, which effectively reduces their learning curve and expedites their success in their new role. While that's important in any field, it's particularly satisfying in the insurance industry, where more than 386,000 open positions were unfilled in Q1 2023.

So far, the Pinnacol team has hired 16 graduates of our apprenticeship program, taking advantage of a proven source of talent that reduces traditional recruiting and training costs.

The perspective they offer has been crucial to Pinnacol as the company prepares for the future of workers, notes Apprenticeship Program Manager Julie Wilmes.

"The insurance industry is undergoing a significant transformation. We're not just focused on today's needs,” said Wilmes. “We're developing a workforce ready to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow."

2. Unmatched technology skills

It's difficult to overstate the asset of Gen Z's grasp on technology as true digital natives. For instance, Pinnacol tasked two apprentices with an extensive IT initiative that involved swapping out 650 laptops across the company. Their tech fluency was pivotal in delivering a smooth upgrade, according to Wilmes.

Two other apprentices were early adopters of artificial intelligence tools. Now, they’re bringing their experience and enthusiasm to Pinnacol projects involving generative AI products and chatbots.

Based on the needs of the organization, another eager apprentice was encouraged to earn a credential in robot processing, which gave him the know-how to automate processes that previously took a week to complete. The apprentice subsequently coordinated with his supervisor to launch a club to train others in the same field.

These young professionals, Wilmes adds, introduce the team to popular new communication platforms that are showing up on their radar — and are likely to also be on the minds of Pinnacol customers.

"They provide insights that fuel our ongoing innovation."

3. Operational support for new initiatives

While much of the Pinnacol program focuses on helping apprentices develop skills to fill existing work roles, they've also been tapped to do experimental tasks as time allows. In one case, a team of apprentices adopted a project that had been sidelined because no one had the bandwidth to tackle it, and the results far exceeded expectations.

Ultimately, the apprentices created a new interface that streamlines the collection of receipts, videos and other communications for a Pinnacol department. Given the positive outcome, Wilmes says they now encourage other divisions to suggest similar languishing projects, and they will see what resources they can allocate.

“These standalone projects allow our apprentices to try work beyond their placements and gain a broad exposure across the company and to other potential career interests."

4. Opportunities to build future leaders

It's the age-old conundrum: Future leaders need management expertise, but how can you nurture it without an opportunity to manage?

Through the apprentice program, Pinnacol provides supervisors with the tools and training they need to evolve these skills. We've even formalized the initiative by creating an internal certification program.

“We want to make this experience a differentiator for our managers, and the result is we are creating two tiers of talent, through both our entry-level competencies and the next generation of leaders," Wilmes says. “It creates a vertical cascade of promotions because the supervisors can use it as a step to advance their career and build on-the-job leadership skills that are hard to come by via traditional professional development."

That was the case for supervisor Mandy Tracy, an audit lead who has hosted an apprentice for three years and cites the supervisor certification as a tangible benefit.

“It's something that goes on my resume and helps me advance my career by setting me apart from my peers," Tracy explained.

Flexing her supervisory muscle has also positively spotlighted her performance and capabilities to upper management.

In addition to the official certification, Wilmes has noticed a renewed vigor among other veteran employees who find their role as a mentor and “subject-matter expert" rewarding.

5. Youthful energy and fresh perspectives

You can't beat the energy that young people bring to a culture — their creativity and curiosity is contagious and can be highly motivating as they bring unique ideas to the table, Wilmes says.

For example, each apprentice created a pitch with ideas for improving working conditions. One mentioned the growing issues with “blue light" exposure from digital screens and made a direct connection to the branded merchandise Pinnacol distributes as part of onboarding. He suggested they include a set of affordable blue light-blocking glasses as part of the packet — a welcome addition to Pinnacol's focus on employee well-being.

6. Learnings extend beyond apprentices

While many of the lessons learned through the apprenticeship program are specific to developing young talent, Pinnacol has found valuable insights that apply across the organization. 

“In many ways, our apprenticeship program has shaped how we do career planning for all employees now,” said Wilmes. “Pinnacol Pathways encourages employees to strategically weave through the organization for new opportunities — like our apprentices — versus the traditional climbing the ladder approach.”

7. A stronger community

Taking a holistic view, the Pinnacol program helps support the larger mission of CareerWise Colorado. Wilmes believes that the success of the program is scalable: The more businesses that nurture young talent, the more the local business ecosystem will flourish.

As an example, she cites one apprentice who chose to pursue an opportunity outside of Pinnacol, and was able to transfer the foundational skills he'd built in business and communications. Wilmes believes that should be the ultimate goal.

“All of our apprentices won’t end up as full-time employees at Pinnacol, but every apprenticeship plants a seed that will benefit the community we’ve been a part of for more than 100 years."

Pinnacol Assurance assumes no responsibility for management or control of customer safety activities. Please ensure your business meets the requirements of all federal, state, and local laws, regulations, or ordinances related to workplace safety.

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