Apprentices with the Arizona Early Childhood Educator Apprenticeship Pathway program attend an Apprentice Learning Institute event at Central Arizona College's Coolidge campus on October 21, 2023.
The Professional Career Pathway Project (PCPP) college scholarship, funded by the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and administered by Central Arizona College (CAC), introduced the first-ever registered apprenticeship program for early childhood educators in Arizona.
A project that started over three years ago based on feedback from community stakeholders and child care providers, the Arizona apprenticeship program seeks to support the recruitment, retention, and professional development needs of the early childhood workforce.
The Arizona Early Childhood Educator Apprenticeship Pathway is a two-year program that combines classroom instruction with on-the-job training for learners to earn a Federal Child Care Development Specialist credential. Apprentices are required to complete 4,000 total work hours (2,000 per year) with a DES contracted child care provider, as well as 18 college credit hours in early childhood education.
Each apprentice is assigned an on-site mentor (journeyworker) who supports their on-the-job learning. Child care providers who host the apprenticeship program also received a Wage Enhancement Grant from DES to fund the apprentice's pathway, supporting wages and paid professional development. A total of twenty-four child care providers are currently participating in the program throughout the state and more than 80 early child care apprentices are paving their way toward certification in 2025, and are set to be the first in Arizona.
Barb Milner, Director of Early Childhood Initiatives at CAC, speaks at the Apprentice Learning Institute Event.
Barb Milner, Director of Early Childhood Initiatives at CAC, oversees the operations of the apprenticeship program at the college. Barb and her team recruited the child care providers and journeyworkers for the apprenticeship program and met with potential apprentices to review the curriculum and coursework.
"We provide the framework for the apprenticeship program," Barb said of her and CAC's role. "We created the on-the-job learning competencies that they will be completing over the course of two years, and then we provide professional development around that. We also provide an online platform to document on-the-job learning."
Once an apprentice is onboarded, they receive a laptop and any other necessary technical support. There are also opportunities for program participants to receive educational support, guidance, bilingual support, and general check-ins from a "Pathway Guide" who is familiar with the apprenticeship program requirements, including assistance with navigating the college enrollment process.
"One of the best advantages [of being an apprentice] is the on-site support and mentoring. The ability of apprentices to earn while they learn is something new for our field," said Melissa Busby, DES Early Care and Education Quality and Systems Building Administrator. Melissa has helped support the Arizona Early Childhood Educator Apprenticeship Pathway since its creation. Before she started with DES in 2022, Melissa was the Director of Early Childhood at CAC for nine years. As a champion for early childhood educators, Melissa is excited to see CAC introduce a trailblazing program with the support of DES.
"I think the nice thing about the way we built our apprenticeship program is that it's both a pathway into the profession and also a pathway into college," said Melissa. "It is helping people come into our field, and with the additional resources and support we have provided, we hope that we will also be able to retain them in our DES-contracted child care facilities."
Building upon this achievement, two individuals from DES and CAC have recently been named Fellows in the Bank Street College of Education Apprenticeship Action Research Fellowship. Through the fellowship, the Arizona Apprenticeship Leaders collaborate with early childhood apprenticeship leaders from nine states to strengthen the opportunities for early childhood educators to learn and grow.
"I'm excited that this pathway is continuing that legacy of collaboration that has always been part of the PCPP. Our collaboration with Arizona community colleges has been a key to the success of the PCPP," said Melissa. "The apprenticeship pathway has given us the opportunity to engage with our state partners, like First Things First, and the Department of Education Early Childhood Division, so I'm really excited that this pathway builds on that collaboration. But most importantly, we are counting on the child care providers as key collaborators. We appreciate these 24 providers who have committed to go on this journey with us — it's exciting to engage with providers in this way."
With this partnership between CAC, DES, and the child care community, we look forward to more innovative opportunities for professional development, advanced education opportunities, and industry growth.
Learn more about Professional Development for DES Child Care Providers on the DES website.