IT Apprenticeship is a win-win for local employer and employee

Last year, Community West Credit Union realized they needed to add a Help Desk Specialist to their IT Team. At the same time, current marketing employee, Sandy, began studying computer science to transition into the IT field. Through grant funding and the West Michigan Works! apprenticeship development program, Community West developed a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) registered IT apprenticeship. The program has filled their talent need and Sandy has met her goal of starting a career in IT.

We sat down with Sandy, Help Desk Specialist Apprentice and Bob, Sandy’s supervisor and Network Manager at Community West Credit Union, to learn more about their apprenticeship journey.

Bob, why is the IT apprenticeship program important to Community West?

Prior to developing the Help Desk Specialist Registered Apprenticeship, Community West didn’t have any apprenticeship programs. When we identified a need for talent in our IT department and had a current employee who was interested in joining the department, it just made sense.

IT apprenticeship participant at work
Sandy in her office at Community West Credit Union

We like to promote from within and give our employees opportunities. We want to help our staff get to where they want to be; if that happens to be at another organization, we hope their experience leads them to speak highly of Community West.

Sandy, what made you want to do an apprenticeship?

At first, I had no idea IT apprenticeships existed. I never thought that reaching my career goals would happen the way it did. I thought it was just a grant that would help me pay for the courses I was already planning to take. It has become so much more.

With training grants secured through West Michigan Works! in addition to Community West’s tuition reimbursement program, I will finish my Associate Degree in Computer Science Programming at Grand Rapids Community College debt-free.

“If doing some paperwork enables employees to get a degree and the skills needed to grow within our organization, with zero dollars of debt, why wouldn’t we do it?”
-Bob – Network Manager, Community West Credit Union

Bob, what was the process like to start a DOL Registered Apprenticeship Program?

Mostly, it was just filling out paperwork. Once we connected with West Michigan Works! we learned some of the required steps were already done by them, so it moved the process along. “If doing some paperwork enables employees to get a degree and the skills needed to grow within our organization, with zero dollars of debt, why wouldn’t we do it?”

Sandy, what has the apprenticeship meant to you as an employee?

This program has given me opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have. Through the apprenticeship program, I have visited other organizations to see how their help desks run and have the option to shadow other IT careers. I get to work on projects that are a personal passion, coincide with my coursework and benefit the organization.

Most importantly, making a wage while having my coursework paid for has helped me maintain my independence. I had just purchased a house when I started classes, so finishing with no debt is a huge benefit.

Community West has always helped me get to where I want to be. I started as a part-time teller three years ago, transferred to marketing and am now in IT. As an apprentice, I have been able to work with my employer to balance school work and job responsibilities. They recognize that classroom and hands-on training are both part of the program. “Who doesn’t want to work for an employer like that?”