DENVER – The word "apprentice" usually sparks visions of someone in a hard hat training to become an electrician or carpenter, or perhaps an aspiring chef learning a trade in a bustling restaurant kitchen. But U.S. Alliance Credit Union's teller apprenticeship program quickly nullifies that stereotype. U.S. Alliance CU has become the first CU in the country to have a teller apprenticeship program registered with the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics as of September 30, 2003, 272,730 apprentices were enrolled in 32,484 programs. Many were indeed aspiring electricians, carpenters, plumbers and pipe fitters. But the concept is spreading into new fields, and U.S. Alliance CU's program breaks the mold. Participants will complete a 2,000 hour, or about one year, curriculum of on-the-job learning plus related instruction through the Colorado Credit Union League and the CUES Online University. Judi Tolbert, USACU vp/operations, explains Lou Garcia at the local DoL office approached the credit union and asked if they would be interested. "We looked into it, and thought it might be a good idea," Tolbert says. "He provided us with the standards of apprenticeship. We reviewed them, sat down with him briefly, and turned it over to our CEO who also thought it was a good idea. "Lou talked with me about the length of training and let me know all training needed to be documented. The actual application itself is pretty basic. We already signed up one new teller, and we have another teller who just started work today. I'm going to sign her up also," Tolbert adds. Existing tellers could also participate in the program, but at this point USACU is focusing on new hires. Tolbert says new tellers generally lack experience. If USACU does bring on board an experienced teller they can receive apprenticeship credit for some hours, depending on their background. Any challenge? "There's an awfully big turnover in the teller area, and the challenge would be keeping tellers long enough for them to complete the program. But that's the only thing I can think of," Tolbert answers. DoL touts the following benefits to employees of a registered apprenticeship program: * Jobs that usually pay higher wages * Higher quality of life and skills versatility * Portable credentials recognized nationally and often globally * Opportunity for college credit and future degrees. Tolbert adds her viewpoint. "We will have more structured training. It will all be documented. The apprentices will be certified and if, unfortunately, they should leave us it would look very good on their resume. If they stay, it will sure give them a leg up," she says. "It's pretty exciting. It's all new. I've been in this business a long time and it's the first time I've ever heard of anything like this." -

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