As a city government organization, the Grand Junction Fire Department (GJFD) prioritizes public safety first. Without the luxury of time to invest in “extras” such as community outreach, many important activities are often put on the back burner. In 2017 that changed when GJFD partnered with CareerWise Colorado to help launch its modern youth-apprenticeship program—and today, GJFD is able to put quality time into essential programs that boost its level of service.
Doing More with Less
GJFD prides itself on providing fire safety and prevention education to Grand Junction residents. Historically, GJFD has used college interns to support the community outreach role, but when it came across CareerWise’s apprenticeship program, it jumped on the chance to hire a youth apprentice. It found modern youth apprenticeship to be a creative solution for doing more with less—while simultaneously investing in the community.
“Interns work here, unpaid, for a semester—then they leave,” said Ellis Thompson-Ellis, community outreach specialist at GJFD. The three-year CareerWise apprenticeship model offered an attractive alternative: train apprentices in meaningful work while providing valuable benefits in productivity. “What better opportunity than to develop young talent and use their knowledge and insights to revitalize an area of our department?”
Apprenticeship also fills a unique niche in preparing youth for the future. As a former teacher, Thompson-Ellis is frustrated by the education environment, which she feels isn’t dynamic enough to prepare students for getting a job and functioning well in the workplace. “Having the foundation of high school and the real work experience helps make that transition a lot more palatable and less scary for students,” she said.
Saying ‘Yes’ to Good Ideas
GJFD’s apprentice, Savanna, is in the CareerWise Business Operations pathway. She develops marketing plans and educational materials, manages events and organizes the accreditation program. While important, these are projects that, during a normal workday dense with short deadlines, could fall off the priority list for the department.
“There is consistently so much more that needs to get done than we have resources to provide,” Thompson-Ellis said. Having an apprentice enables the team to not only pursue projects, but to accelerate timelines.
“Normally we end up having to say ‘no’ to lots of good ideas that would help us achieve our goals,” she said. “Having Savanna allows us to say ‘yes’ to more of them. That is really exciting.”
Seeing the Fruits of Labor
Mentoring and teaching apprentices is time-and energy-intensive on the front end. But Thompson-Ellis says a major benefit of the CareerWise program is that all of that time and energy gets to stick around longer. Because the apprenticeship is a sustained effort, Savanna now works independently, self-manages most of her projects and is familiar with the tools. “We can see the fruits of our labor,” she said, noting that the investment of time does require careful consideration. “It’s like farming: you can’t neglect it. You get back what you put in.”
GJFD underwent an extensive process to get the right person for the job, interviewing several candidates who were not the ideal fit. “You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole,” she said. Knowing there was no pressure from CareerWise to do the program without the right hire was a bonus. CareerWise supported GJFD’s choices along the way—including the hiring of Savanna, who proved to be the right choice in terms of intellect, personality, drive and innovation.
An Asset to the Vision
GJFD knew there was a tremendous opportunity to add value and productivity to its organization through the CareerWise apprenticeship. But it didn’t expect how much of an asset Savanna would be in helping to fulfill GJFD’s vision to protect people and property.
“We didn’t expect how much we would love her as a person and professional. The fire department is really family-oriented, and she is part of our family now,” said Thompson-Ellis.
Company Profile: Grand Junction Fire Department
Industry: City government
Staff: 125 employees
Location: Grand Junction, Colo.