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NICC celebrates first graduates of earn-and-learn agriculture apprenticeship program with RCIS

Friday, May 10, 2024

RCIS apprentices earn full-time pay and benefits while pursuing an associate’s degree at NICC. RCIS covers the cost of tuition.

NORTHEAST IOWA—Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) and Rural Community Insurance Services (RCIS), the crop insurance business of Zurich North America, are collaborating to train individuals for professional careers in the crop insurance industry through an earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship model. 

Through the two-year program, RCIS apprentices split their weeks between Agriculture Business coursework at NICC and on-the-job training at RCIS. RCIS apprentices earn full-time pay and benefits while pursuing an associate’s degree at NICC. RCIS covers the cost of tuition. Apprentices who complete the program are promoted to their next full-time role at RCIS. 

Thirteen apprentices represent the first cohort to complete the online program, and nine traveled to northeast Iowa to participate in graduation on May 9. The online coursework format allows students to enroll from anywhere in the US. Students from the first cohort live in California, Washington, North Dakota, North Carolina, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio. RCIS writes crop insurance in all 50 states, with around 3,700 agents and 1,500 team members across the US. RCIS and the Zurich Office of Apprenticeship selected NICC as their agriculture education provider after a nationwide search. 

“We congratulate the first NICC graduates of our apprenticeship program, which allows participants to simultaneously gain high-quality education and valuable experience to launch a rewarding career with RCIS, a leading national crop insurance provider. It’s a fantastic opportunity for both the apprentices and for RCIS to attract the talent we need for the future,” said RCIS Claims Apprenticeship Manager Cheryl Richmond-Witwer. 

In addition to the associate's degree, graduates receive a U.S. Department of Labor Certificate of Apprenticeship.

Devin Burlage_headshot_newsProgram graduate Devin Burlage of Dyersville, Iowa (pictured at right), said the program opens career doors for recent high school graduates and adults who may benefit from the program’s flexible format.

“As a student just graduating from high school, getting an education paid for while still gaining work experience and a salary has been a massive head start for me. Adult learners also benefit; they may have a family to take care of and need an opportunity to receive a college education without sacrificing their income entirely,” Burlage said.

Fellow graduate Adam Prybylinski, of Paso Robles, Calif., agrees that the program's flexibility and industry-focused curriculum are a good fit for students seeking to advance their careers in agribusiness. 

Adam Prybylinski_headshot_web2“I especially like the program’s flexibility, being able to work and go to college at the same time. It was great to have something to be working towards – learning on-the-job and at the college. I could learn something on a Tuesday and be out in the field and applying it on Wednesday. That really reinforced what I learned,” Prybylinski said.

As a higher education provider for RCIS, NICC customized its curriculum to match the company’s needs and streamline graduates’ successful entry into professional employment, said NICC Executive Director of Community and Student Development Erin Powers Daley, Ph.D.

“Collaborative, earn-while-you-learn programs offer a synergistic relationship wherein both learners and industries thrive. These innovative programs effectively address the evolving needs of the workforce by combining tailored education with practical experience. Northeast Iowa Community College’s commitment to customizing curriculum ensures that students are equipped with the precise skills demanded by employers, fostering a seamless transition into the professional world,” she said.

More future graduates are in the pipeline. A group that started in the fall of 2023 includes 16 students from Montana, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, California, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas and Tennessee. Approximately 17 new students are enrolled next fall.

A Successful Track Record

NICC has forged other successful earn-while-you-learn collaborations with companies in northeast Iowa that need trained welders, Commercial Driver License personnel, industrial maintenance technicians, childcare providers, and other skilled positions. Students may complete their education and training in a year or two, or just a few months.

Learn more about earn-while-you-learn opportunities at NICC

Learn more about RCIS apprenticeship opportunities

Learn more about the broader Zurich Apprenticeship Program

ABOUT RCIS: RCIS offers insurance protection in all 50 states through a national network of around 3,700 licensed agents. RCIS has a wide range of private product coverages, including a diverse selection of named-peril options, supplemental and stand-alone insurance products as well as federal crop insurance plans through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency. RCIS, together with its agents, protect America’s farmers and ranchers. Further information is available at RCIS.com.

In photo at top: 2024 RCIS-NICC apprentice graduates include (from left) Adam Prybylinski from Paso Robles, Calif.; Dakota Greenwood from Cisne, Ill.; Devin Burlage from Dyersville, Iowa; Roxanne Allenbach from Colfax, Wash.; Josh Buerkley from Minneapolis; Megan Glenna from Milltown, Wis.; Abby Breece from Alvada, Ohio; and Raynee Gottbreht from Rolette, N.D. Other graduates not pictured: Connor Frana from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (who attended NICC festivities earlier in the day); Cole Hinsverk (North Dakota), Kayla Marker (Ohio), Cleve Newton (North Carolina) and Amanda Sim (North Carolina).