By Adam Vitcavage
Gabriella Ayala is only 22-years old and has already left her mark at Pinnacol Assurance. Originally hired as a youth apprentice during high school, she was hired full-time as a software engineer, and just last year was asked to supervise an apprentice even though she was only a handful of years removed from being one herself. Proving age is just a number–and talent can come from paths outside of the traditional four-year degree–she’s now being awarded the Outstanding Mentor Award from the Colorado Apprenticeship Awards.
While many companies shy away from giving younger employees a lot of responsibility, Pinnacol saw that Gabriella could use her youth and experience as an apprenticeship to guide the next generation of apprentices at the company to build strong relationships and earnest guidance that didn’t feel antiquated.
She used her own experiences as a high school student by morning and a coder by afternoon who had to juggle learning about symbolism in The Great Gatsby in addition to mastering complex coding at her job to connect with her apprentice Ralen in ways other employees at Pinnacol could not.
“Gabriella cared about her mentee Ralen’s success as much as her own,” said Julie Wilmes, Pinnacol’s apprenticeship program manager. “She applied her own unique experience to help him navigate the challenges of being a young person in the workplace. Ralen often got anxious if he made a mistake, but Gabby showed so much faith in him that he looked to her for reassurance when he doubted himself. As our first apprentice-turned-apprentice supervisor, she continues to push our thinking on what an apprentice can become. By coloring outside the lines, she expands the landscape of opportunity for everyone who follows in her footsteps.
Gabriella’s mentorship extends beyond technical skills; she fosters a growth mindset among her apprentices, encouraging them to view mistakes and setbacks as valuable learning opportunities. Under her guidance, Ralen became more proactive in seeking help, asking questions, and actively participating in team meetings, accelerating his learning curve. Gabriella recognized the need to enhance Ralen’s professional soft skills, particularly in time management. Her patient coaching helped him manage his schedule effectively and allocate dedicated time for focused work. Her exceptional ability to balance patience with high expectations significantly contributed to Ralen’s remarkable growth during the apprenticeship.
Leveraging her experience as an apprentice, Gabriella creates comprehensive training plans tailored to equip her mentees with the necessary skills for success in the software engineering field. Her dedication to equitable opportunities is evident as she played a vital role in identifying an online training course and certification suitable for Ralen’s unique circumstances.
She’s also focused on more than her own growth and ensuring her mentees succeed. She has an unwavering commitment to creating an inclusive work environment is apparent through her adaptable and open-minded approach to collaboration. Her team at Pinnacol commend how she upholds the principle of treating others in a manner that aligns with their preferences, adjusting her communication methods accordingly. Her dedication to promoting diversity and inclusivity is further exemplified through her advocacy for her mentee during virtual meetings, highlighting her genuine commitment to fostering an equitable workplace.
Throughout her time as an apprenticeship supervisor and mentor, Gabriella Ayala has committed to the personal and professional development of her mentees. She knows what it is like to be a young woman of color in a field where she is historically underrepresented. She uses her position as a beacon for other young people and inspires them to learn everywhere and go anywhere.
In November 2023, Gabriella was recognized for her efforts in supervising a youth apprentice by the Colorado Apprenticeship Awards where she won the Outstanding Mentor Award for the year.