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Earn while you learn apprenticeship programs increase access to jobs in banking and finance

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Lupita Montiel is on her way to becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. The youngest of her siblings, it has been a dream of hers to go further in higher education. Thanks to an apprenticeship program through Blue Ridge Community College, she’s one step closer to achieving that dream. 

“I want to get my degree. None of my siblings have a degree — they’re working,” Montiel said “They tried, but it just wasn’t for them… and I understood that.”

After three semesters of working and studying, she earned a certificate in business from Blue Ridge Community College. The sense of accomplishment and pride gained from earning her certificate had an impact on more than just Montiel. At the ceremony where she received her certificate, family and friends filled the room.

“We know how big this was for her and her family,” said Shanda Bedoian, the director of corporate and customized training at Blue Ridge Community College. “… She probably had 20-30 people there. It was everybody. Family, friends, you name it.”

Apprenticeships provide students with the ability to earn wages while working toward a credential, certificate, or college degree. For many college students, especially first-generation college students, working while attending school is a necessity. It is estimated that about 50% of first-generation college students are low income, according to the Center for First-Generation Student Success. In addition, 66% of first-generation students were employed while in school.

While she was a student at West Henderson High School, Monitel learned about the apprenticeship programs offered through Blue Ridge Community College in a personal finance class she was taking. After hearing about the opportunity, she went to an event at the college to learn more. 

“I was very nervous because it was something outside of my box, and there were only a couple of girls… but I just went because I was like, ‘If I don’t do this, I don’t think I ever will.’ So I went and then I really liked it,” said Montiel.

Blue Ridge Community College offers 15 apprenticeship programs across diverse fields of industry. Montiel participated in the business and banking apprenticeship, where she worked at worked at Mountain Credit Union. Having long been interested in math and numbers, it was an easy choice for her.

Prior to participating in the apprenticeship program, Montiel completed Blue Ridge’s pre-apprenticeship program. During the pre-apprenticeship program, apprentices spend two weeks learning foundational professional skills to aid them as they transition into the workforce. The program is a precursor to the draft day, which is when the selections for apprentices and employers are announced.

“Pre-apprenticeship really just lays the foundation of being a working professional. We have the conversations and we instruct and teach how to have communication skills at work, how to advocate for yourself as an employee, how to have crucial conversations that you might not already know how to have as a recent high school graduate or career changer,” said Cassandra Townsend, the apprenticeship coordinator at Blue Ridge Community College.

While in the program, Montiel attended class for one day a week and then worked at her placement for the rest of the week. This model has helped the college scale its program over the last five years. 

“We work with more than 60 employers. We’ve heard from them, as well as the apprentices, how special that one day a week model is,” said Townsend.

Screenshot from Blue Ridge Community College’s apprenticeship webpage

“There’s a lot of hands-on experience. What the credit union offers me is internal growth. They want to see us grow and my manager definitely wants to see us grow. She’s been working with all of us one-on-one and she always tells me how I’m improving and how much she wants to see me improve,” Montiel said. “From the beginning I always think about how much I’ve grown.”

Mountain Credit Union asked if Montiel was interested in continuing her employment while she works toward an associate’s degree in business. Montiel hopes other high schoolers will consider apprenticeships and the impactful opportunities they create for students.

“Jobs are looking for people with experience and since you’re already doing both, with going to school and learning and also going to work, it’s overall a great experience,” she said. “Take it and watch yourself grow from the beginning to the end because it’s something not everybody offers, and it was an opportunity that I don’t regret.”

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.