In the summer of 2017, ProStar GeoCorp® helped CareerWise Colorado launch the nation’s first modern youth-apprenticeship program by becoming a pilot project partner. Just seven months in, ProStar’s 17-year-old information technology apprentice has already exceeded the company’s expectations—earning him a pay raise and, for ProStar, casting a new light on just how capable, professional and productive high school students can be.
Apprenticeship: A Natural Extension
Most of the young people Grand Junction-based ProStar has brought on board to groom for the future have been computer science-oriented college students. However, when the company’s vice president of operations, David McGee, learned about CareerWise, he became convinced it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to make a similar opportunity available to high school students.
While some organizations might question whether a high schooler would be prepared to work in a business environment, McGee has found that his apprentice, William, shines in terms of his maturity and sense of responsibility. In addition, McGee sees other valuable qualities not only in William, but in the current generation.
“Young people are raised on technology. And someone who is eager, wants to try hard, and has the skill set to work with a technical company can be groomed and taught,” he said.
McGee added that ultimately, “Taking on a high school apprentice was a natural extension of what we already do. It was an easy decision to participate.”
Taking the Long View
Given ProStar’s previous experience hosting college interns, the company was equipped with the processes to take on an apprentice. However, the structure and support CareerWise delivers have been essential to ProStar’s success.
For starters, CareerWise guided ProStar and its new apprentice through a comprehensive onboarding process. And by advising ProStar on the creation of an internal support system featuring both a supervisor who serves in a day-to-day role and a mentor to help the apprentice with other non-job specific situations, “CareerWise has hit the mark,” according to McGee.
Additionally, in contrast to shorter-term intern or workforce center programs, “CareerWise takes the long view,” McGee said. With the opportunity to teach its apprentice over a period of three years, ProStar has time to develop the apprentice’s skill sets in ways that deliver direct, immediate value to the company.
Exceeding the Break-even Point
What McGee didn’t expect when it teamed with CareerWise was how easily his apprentice would come up to speed and assimilate.
Coming into ProStar with no formal training or education, after only seven months, William was testing software functionality, writing test cases and developing client documentation—all tasks that would otherwise be completed by a salaried staff member.
“He’s already exceeded the break-even point, about four months ahead of schedule,” McGee estimated. “Now that I know William, this is not a surprise at all.”
While that level of productivity will require McGee’s team to develop a modified path to ensure that William continues to be engaged, McGee said it will be a good learning opportunity for both the company and for William. It’s an investment of time ProStar is keen to make for the college-bound high schooler.
ProStar’s apprentice benefits the company in terms of work quantity and quality—but McGee also anticipates a financial return on investment. Not accounting for training time the company has invested, William’s work represents approximately a 20 percent cost savings compared to what ProStar would normally pay an hourly-equivalent staff member on the quality assurance team.
McGee described it as a win-win situation—and is eager to recognize William for his efforts. “We see enough of a return on investment that we gave him a raise to throw kudos his way for doing a great job,” he said.
Having an apprentice also gives ProStar a competitive advantage as a smaller technology startup. Paying an apprentice’s wage helps keep costs low—an important aspect of the company’s operations as it tries to grow and compete in the geospatial intelligence software industry.
ProStar is preparing William for college after his apprenticeship is complete—and may even retain William if he attends school locally. But in the meantime, ProStar is very happy with the win-win of grooming an apprentice while reaping the financial and productivity benefits of engaging a motivated, hard-working young person who adds significant value to the ProStar team.
Company Profile: ProStar Geocorp®
Industry: Geospatial intelligence software
Staff: 15 full-time employees
Location: Grand Junction, Colo.