A Fair Trade: Swapping College Debt For A Reliable Career

THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY TRAINING COUNCIL OF COLORADO provides apprenticeships and continued education in several trades, including carpentry, masonry, plumbing, pipefitting, sheet metal and electrical. PHOTO: JOHN RENFROW/CITC

More and more, people young and old are looking for a different career path than one needing a college degree and the debt that comes with it. 

At the Construction Industry Training Council of Colorado (CTIC), now located in Wheat Ridge, the incentives and options available to those interested in trades are nearly too good to be true, according to Executive Director Cori Gerlitz. 

“We spent so many years preaching to our kids, ‘You have to go to college, you have to go to college,’” she said. “Really, you don’t. There are definitely alternative paths to college, and there are alternative careers with training that won’t get you hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt with student loans.”

The program – which is a nonprofit, and is accredited through the Emily Griffith Technical College and the Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship Training – partners with contractors to provide apprenticeships to students wanting to learn a trade. 

The apprenticeships are all paid, starting at around $20 per hour, with raises every six months as they progress through the system until they reach a journeyman level. 

“Our apprentices, most of them don’t have to have any out-of-pocket expenses except for their tools,” Gerlitz said. “We bill the contractors for tuition and books, and as long as the students are maintaining their grades and doing well, most of our companies will pay for school 100 percent.” 

Founded in 1988 at the Red Rocks Community College, the CITC provides apprenticeships and continued education in several trades, including carpentry, masonry, plumbing, pipefitting, sheet metal and electrical, the most popular, Gerlitz said. 

In 2000, the program moved to their Denver location downtown. After the number of students ballooned to nearly 900 in 2019, the interest was outgrowing the building and facilities. So CITC found a larger space in Wheat Ridge, which they purchased in 2021 and moved into in 2022. 

“There’s a huge demand (for trades),” Gerlitz said. “You’ve got an entire generation of knowledge that is retiring. We’re going to have tens of thousands of positions available in the state. Hundreds of thousands across the United States.” 

Ideally, those apprentices who become journeymen will enter the field making upwards of $30 per hour, with connections in the industry and no debt hanging over their heads. 

And because the program is accredited with the Emily Griffith Technical College, the apprentices can earn up to 45 transferable credits towards an associate degree. 

“The narrative in the state over the last eight or nine years is starting to change,” Gerlitz said. “People are starting to realize college isn’t affordable for everybody and it’s also not for everyone … Someone’s always going to need their lights fixed. Or their HVAC tuned up. Someone always needs a plumber. I call it a recession-proof career.” 

Although registration for fall has passed, a late registration period opens in October for the January semester. For more information, visit www.citcinc.org. 

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