Many young people find themselves more prepared to enter the working world because of participation in Youth Apprenticeship (YA), a program that is taking off in the state, but especially in Amery.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced record participation in its YA programs, with 8,357 high-school juniors and seniors pursuing paid, on-the-job training in fields, including manufacturing, health, science, agriculture and more. This record number represents 30% more youth apprentices than the 2021-2022 school year.
"With record low unemployment at 2.5% and a record number of jobs, Wisconsin employers are seeking new ways to connect with high-skill employees," said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek. "Youth Apprenticeship is one way for employers to find talent, and the program's record numbers show that it's a connector for employers and job seekers alike. Youth apprentices truly are the next generation of our workforce, Wisconsin's future nurses, construction workers, marketers, manufacturers, technology innovators, and more."
The program is especially popular at Amery High School (AHS). This school year, 2022-2023, the program has 88 Youth Apprentices in the 11th and 12th grades.
This year there were 268 Youth Apprentices in the CESA #11 Consortium (31 school districts participate in the YA Grant Consortium).
That means AHS had 32% of the Youth Apprentices in the consortium for the current school year.
Youth Apprenticeship Coordinators are Ramona Lockwood, Emily Larson and Karen Ganje.
“Our first years for YA were 1994-1995 and our first business partner was Bremer Bank,” said Lockwood, “We have a long history of a strong YA program at AHS!”
The most popular program areas in
CESA 11 are: Marketing, Hospitality, Manufacturing, and Health Science.
Ganje is the newest coordinator to join the team. She said, “I have been lucky enough to experience the benefits of the Youth Apprenticeship Program as a YA advisor and as a parent.”
Ganje shared she seen students get to experience real world work opportunities that help them decide on a future career path, build their soft skills and confidence. They can “try out” a career area to see if they would like to pursue a future career in the area they worked in during high school.
“Personally, my daughter was able to work in a financial institution through the Finance YA program. As a high school student, she learned how to manage a professional work setting, gained customer service skills, and had the opportunity to learn how a bank runs. She would not have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for the YA program. Ultimately, she isn’t pursing a financial career, but the knowledge she gained from her bank job benefits her daily,” Ganje said.
Another student currently working in the finance field is Anarene Evenson, who is currently at WESTconsin Credit Union and she’s planning to transfer to the River Falls Office during college. She’s going to study Ag. Finance/Business at UWRF.
Helen Buenzli and Rachel Garves are hospitality and tourism youth apprenticeship students working at Amery Ale Works. In the fall, Helen will be attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and majoring in the school’s pastry program.
Shyan Taylor shared working at Camp Wapo has helped her step out of her comfort zone and learn how to serve others in new ways. She said, “I’m also fortunate enough to be surrounded by some great people who teach me new and amazing things each day.”
Lexis Konecny, YA in Marketing at Chet Johnson Drug, said, “I find being in YA very helpful because it allows me to work more hours because I'm allowed to leave school early to go to work. I also think it's helpful because I was able to get a check (YA receive $200 work clothing stipend from the state grant funding each year they are in the program, this helps students purchase clothing they need for the workplace) to help me buy things for work that I needed.”
Lockwood said because Konecy is planning on pursuing a career in Real Estate, working in Marketing Sales/Customer Service is helping her learn how to work with customers from a variety of backgrounds. This will be very helpful when she enters the Real Estate field where she will deal with many different personalities.
“There is a career planning component to the YA Program, which fits in with our high school’s Academic and Career Planning mission. All YA students take the required Careers class and required Personal Finance class, both of these help students plan and prepare for their future careers. In addition, students who are released during the school day take Employability Skills class where we cover topics to help students develop workplace skills,” said Lockwood.
The YA Program has a work-based component with local business partners and a school-based component. Students are required to have at least two school-related CTE courses each year they are in the program.
Lockwood said, “We have very strong CTE participation (Agriculture, Business, Family and Consumer Science, and Tech. Ed.) in our district, so our students don’t have any problems getting the school-related classes completed. The employers help our students work at least 450 hours for each year of the program and check off the students on the state-approved skills checklists (on-the-job learning guides). This ensures our students are learning the skills needed in their program area.”
The grant funding is coordinated through CESA 11. They write the grant and disperse the funds to AHS each year. In addition, they provide support (updates about the program and administrative support).
Lockwood said, “When I landed in Amery in 1994, my mission was to help students prepare for the business workplace. Back in those days, it was called ‘School to Work’. We’ve had many changes over the years as the program has grown and we have helped many students develop valuable workplace skills. It is my passion and my legacy I hope to leave to the future educators and students at AHS. The most rewarding part of my career has been watching my students grow and develop into their own careers. The reason we’ve had so much success is because of the business partnerships. Every single business I have worked with over the years has been phenomenal. In addition, the school board members, teaching staff, administrators, and parents have also been very supportive. We are all working together toward the same goal of helping our youth.”
She explained, “When, we first launched the program, Ray Norsted, the District Administrator at the time, took me to a Community Club Meeting and had me present my ideas to our business leaders. Thinking back, I’m sure I was super nervous. I had just moved here and I didn’t know anyone. At that time, I was working with Nancy Graese from CESA 11 to earn my Master’s Degree in CTE. She was my mentor for the master’s program through UW-Stout and the YA initiative was just getting started at the state level. She helped us get our YA Program started—she planted some very powerful seeds! The Community Club members were very supportive and that was the beginning of what has grown into an outstanding program.”
Larson agrees. She said, “I became a youth apprenticeship coordinator in 2015 and have loved working with community members and students more than I could ever have imagined. I have even assisted other teachers in starting youth apprentice programs in their schools.”
In addition, YA had a record 5,719 employers, training and giving these students work opportunities in a variety of industries.
"Together schools, employers, local YA consortiums are preparing youth apprentices for the next step on their career path," Polk said. "Whether that next step is registered apprenticeship, higher education, or standard employment, our partners ensure that Wisconsin's youth apprentices are equipped for whatever their future holds."
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