At 16, Lanna Hernandez wanted more than the typical teenage job; she wanted a career. Under the recommendation of her guidance counselor, Hernandez applied to CareerWise’s apprenticeship program—which offers a modern twist on classic apprenticeships.
Noel Ginsburg, founder of CareerWise, knows the feeling. When Ginsburg was a teenager, he worked at a manufacturing plant and, during his senior year as a student at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, he had started his own custom plastics business, Intertech Plastics.
“My experience at DU was life-changing and opened the door for me to be able to start multiple businesses over the years,” Ginsburg said.
Intertech Plastics was not only a passion of Ginsburg’s but also a vehicle to do good.
“I wanted the company to serve as a platform for me to give back to the community,” he said.
Early in the business, Ginsburg ran into a consistent problem—he couldn’t find the talent to fill open positions. At first, he blamed the school system for not better preparing students, but after visiting nearby Montbello High School in Denver, he realized the problem was much more nuanced.
“Schools are not like businesses,” he said. “If I had raw materials that came in out of spec, I sent them back. You don’t do that in schools. In schools, kids come from all backgrounds, all different academic levels. You put them in a class, and it is hard.”
But Ginsburg pressed on and came up with a way to connect the learning of necessary skills to real-world projects: apprenticeships. He created a partnership between Montbello and Intertech Plastics, the first of many.
As Intertech Plastics continued to succeed, Ginsburg looked at more avenues to give back and meaningfully impact the lives of young people. He founded Colorado’s I Have a Dream Foundation, and he and his wife Leslie “adopted” a class of 42 elementary school students in a Denver metro community where the dropout rate was nearly 90%. For 10 years, with the help of a staff person, they embedded themselves into the community, going to parent-teacher conferences, paying for braces, doing what they could to help the kids succeed. Ultimately, they reversed course for those kids, with 90% of them graduating from high school.
“That 10-year experience is why I do what I do today,” Ginsburg said.
While he was thrilled with the success, Ginsburg knew adopting classes wasn’t a scalable idea. He spent years exploring other options and ended up visiting Switzerland through his work with Denver Public Schools to learn about the Swiss education system. Academically, the systems look similar, he says. But in Switzerland, there’s a heavy emphasis on professional education and training, which starts as early as middle school. Also, businesses there work alongside schools to create meaningful professional and post-secondary opportunities.
When Ginsburg returned to Denver, he had a vision. It wasn’t enough to tell other businesses about it; he wanted them to see it. He reached out to then-Governor John Hickenlooper and asked him to join a delegation of business executives to Switzerland.
“The missing partner was business. It wasn’t to stand on the outside to be a critic or an advisor; they are a part of the training system,” Ginsburg said. “The return on investment for business was the key to unlocking scale.”
And in 2016, CareerWise was born. CareerWise partners with businesses and schools, offering apprenticeships in careers like IT, marketing, accounting, sales, hospitality and financial services. To date, more than 1,400 apprentices have been hired by 120 companies.
Ginsburg looks at CareerWise as an “options multiplier,” and for former apprentices like Hernandez, it has been.
In March 2020, Hernandez, a student at Overland High School, began her marketing coordinator apprenticeship at CareerWise Colorado’s office. Shortly after, as the world grappled with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez wasn’t only a remote student but also a remote worker.
Because of a partnership between CareerWise and Overland, Hernandez was able to split her time between school and work, spending two days a week at home working. On track to graduate, Hernandez wanted to finish high school as soon as she could. She doubled up on English classes and graduated as a junior.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking. I knew the path I wanted to build for myself,” Hernandez said. “I was overwhelmed, but I was very driven.”
At 18, Hernandez is now a full-time marketing coordinator at CareerWise, a job she was offered after completing her apprenticeship. She’s since earned a certificate in project management, and she’s working toward obtaining a real estate license, utilizing the skills she’s gathered as a marketing professional.
Hernandez says all this wouldn’t be possible without CareerWise’s youth apprenticeship program. The company’s enthusiasm to work alongside young people motivated her to work hard.
“Despite our age, despite our [lack of] experience, they thought there was power in the youth as long as they were given the same materials,” Hernandez said. “The program has benefitted so many people, and I’m just one person to live through it.”
While Hernandez and Ginsburg are at opposite ends of their careers, they both proved early that age is only a number.