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Highlands College Launches First-Ever Apprenticeship Program


In the spring of 2020, Montana Tech’s Highlands College and the Department of Labor (DOL) launched the first-ever apprenticeship program at Highlands College. With this partnership, Highlands College provides the educational component, and the DOL provides oversight, support to faculty and the employer, and the administration of the program.

Highlands College instructor Vickie Petritz is leading the project at Highlands, working closely with Sharon Smith from the DOL. The team has developed standards, aligned the curriculum, and met with employers in Butte to explain the program. This spring, three accounting students started their accounting apprenticeships. “These are the first apprenticeships ever at Highlands College,” noted Petritz.

Students attend classes and work throughout the apprenticeship. They can apply what they learn in the classroom consistently in real-time. Petritz added, “I have always felt there is a disconnect between what the students learn in the classroom and their ability to apply that knowledge when they enter the workforce after graduation. As faculty, we try to mitigate that as much as possible. But, bottom line, nothing replaces hands-on, real-life experience. The apprenticeships provide this.”

When the student finishes the apprenticeship, they earn an associate of applied science degree in Accounting Technology from Montana Tech. Also, they will have credentials from the Department of Labor showing that they completed over 2,000 hours of related work experience. This apprenticeship will make the students more marketable and increase their confidence in their abilities when they enter the workforce.

“I believe these apprenticeships are a great recruiting tool for the employer. We are in a tight labor market right now, and good employees are hard to find. These students will have worked for the employer for over 2,000 hours. If they have a job opening, the apprentice would be a good candidate. It is all about workforce readiness. Our goal is to provide students with the best opportunities we can to ensure they are successful when they enter the workforce. The DOL is interested in developing a well-educated workforce that meets the needs of Montana employers. These apprenticeships will help both of us achieve these goals,” explained Petritz.

Dave Gurchiek, Dean of Highlands College, added, “When you discuss apprenticeships, most people assume you are talking about the trades. However, at Highlands, we recognize that non-trades apprenticeships in areas such as business, healthcare, and network technology are just as important to our students and the region as traditional industry-driven apprenticeships. I’m grateful to Vicki and Sharon for their hard work in providing Highlands with its first apprenticeship program.”

To learn more about the apprenticeship program at Highlands College, please visit