(Previously titled ‘College is broken.’ Apprentice University Takes on the 11th Commandment)

Ron Brumbarger and Joel Moran didn’t shy away from controversy during their presentation about Apprentice University at Tech Thursday last week. They were unapologetic in their claim that “college is broken,” citing troubling statistics and rebuking what they called the 11th Commandment — “thou shalt attend a four-year college.”

Apprentice University was founded last year by Brumbarger, a well-known business owner and entrepreneur. He said he was motivated by news coverage and analysis like that conducted in 2012 by The Associated Press showing more than 50 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, as well as his own experiences as an employer and tech sector insider.

“Going to college,” Brumbarger asserts, is synonymous with “debt with no job guarantee.”

Apprentice University is an education and employment model based on the skilled trades model — carpenters, electricians and plumbers — but specifically focused on technology, business and entrepreneurship, and new media career tracks. Apprentices are prepared for success and leadership in the business world through a unique integration of on-the-job experience, mentoring, and the more formal, traditional classroom education.

Ron Brumbarger presents Apprentice University at TechPoint’s Tech Thursday in Indianapolis.

Joel Moran, director of business development for Apprentice University, said that the success of the apprentice model depends on the engagement of Indianapolis’ business and tech communities mentoring young professionals who choose this non-traditional career path.

“Ron launched Apprentice University to address two problems,” Moran said. “For students, we’re providing a hands-on, debt-free path to a career in business or tech. For businesses in our employer network, we’re providing the next generation of talent.”

Apprentice University at a glance:

  • Apprentices are employed by Apprentice University
  • Apprentices are paid
  • Apprentices work in real jobs with measurable goals and objectives
  • Apprentices can be fired like any employee
  • Apprentices are assigned a mentor at each company
  • Apprentices work at each company three-four months
  • Apprentices take required courses to supplement their education
  • Apprentices build a portfolio of experience, references and credentials
  • Apprentices can earn back 85 percent or more of their tuition

Most current executives and leaders in the business and tech communities — as well as many seasoned and mid-level workers (like myself) graduated from four-year institutions 15-25 years ago, when having a college degree meant that you were going to get a good job sooner or later. In my class of journalism graduates in the 1990s, the debate was over whether or not people were perusing gigs at newspapers and magazines, politics and public service, or public relations and advertising. It was assumed we would all get jobs;  the idea that half of us would be unemployed or underemployed for years wasn’t part of the discussion.

Today’s graduates face an altogether different job market where finding employment is not a foregone conclusion, and employers report that candidates simply don’t have the skills required for increasingly technical, specialized positions.

Brumbarger’s passion for Apprentice University is palpable, and he and his team are determined to provide a lasting solution to filling the business and tech pipelines with ideal entry-level workers. Perhaps the solution, like in the energy sector, is not an elusive “silver bullet” single approach, but the combination of multiple competing and complementary approaches.

Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network — Indiana’s clean-tech, energy ecosystem initiative — advocates an “all of the above” strategy to energy independence, supporting and investing in promising energy alternatives to relying heavily of fossil fuels.

America’s job preparatory ecosystem relies heavily on the four-year degree that has served employers and workers alike very well for generations. The future, however, might be calling for a more diverse ecosystem including creative new options like Apprentice University. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Tech Thursday
Leaders of industry and thinking come together at TechPoint’s public networking event held the third Thursday of every month. Beverages including beer and wine, and hors d’oeuvres are served.

Tech Thursday is sponsored by voice, data and managed services provider LightBound and hosted by the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. The event is free, open to the public, and hosted at the offices of Faegre Baker Daniels near 96th St. and College Ave. on the Northside of Indianapolis.


Raising the profile of Indiana startup companies through stories like this is made possible by Tailwind, a TechPoint initiative powered by the Indiana Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.