Thursday, July 10, 1997
WEST BEND - High school junors and seniors sent a message to legislators in the State Capitol: Don't abolish a program that gives us practical, hands-on experience while we learn good-paying jobs and careers with a future.
The students were joined by parents, educators, and employers. They were responding to news that the majority caucus in the State Senate intends to abolish youth apprenticeships, a school-to-work program that prepares Wisconsin's young people for family-supporting jobs with a future.
"Why cut a program that works?" asked Linda Stewart, secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. "Youth apprenticeships motivate young people to begin thinking about making wise career choices while they're still in school.
"By eliminating youth apprenticeships, the Senate majority caucus is taking away one of the few initiatives that prepares our workforce for the 21st Century and addresses the critical shortage of skilled workers, especially here in the Milwaukee metro area," Stewart added.
In the 1996-97 school year, 1,150 young men and women in 295 school districts were preparing for jobs in such growth industries as auto repair technology, architectural drafting, financial services, machining, and printing - 14 in all. A fifteenth, plastics manufacturing, will be added this fall.
Youth apprenticeships allow juniors and seniors to combine traditional classroom study with specialized education, often at technical colleges, and real-life experience in the workplace. Youth apprentices graduate from high school with a diploma and a skill certificate honored industrywide. Many high school students also receive credit toward a technical college degree.
Michelle Coblentz, a 1995 graduate of Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School, just completed her first year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. "This program means everything to me," said Coblentz. "If you ask me, the youth apprenticeship program is the biggest door that's ever opened for me. It would be a shame to see it slam shut for the rest of the students."
Bob Maloney, of Manitowoc, thought becoming a youth apprentice would be an easy ride. "I joined for the wrong reasons," he admits. "I didn't like school, I did not know what to do with my life." But the school-to-work program encouraged him to raise his grade point average from 1.8 to 3.8 (on a 4.00 scale). "I learned what maturity is all about." Maloney is now a loan officer at a credit union.
"The youth apprenticeship program is a win-win situation for taxpayers, parents, educators, employer, and the young people themselves," said John Torinus Jr., president of Serigraph, Inc. His printing company has been participating in the program since its inception in 1992. "Why anyone would want to kill this program is beyond me," Torinus said.
Daniel Wooster, an instructor of automotive technology at Gateway Technical College, Racine, was named vocational teacher of the year for 1997 by the Wis. Vocational Education Association. "I serve on General Motors curriculum task force to develop their national program, which will be modeled after ours in Wisconsin. To back up from our leadership role now with what we are doing for our students would be ridiculous," Wooster said.
Over 750 employers pay the young apprentices at least minimum wage for 15 to 24 hours of work per week while under the close mentorship of a seasoned professional. After graduation, 38 percent enroll in a technical college, 27 percent in a four-year college, 5 percent in a two-year institution, and 4 percent took other training.
The program is popular with students, parents, educators, and employers. In a survey conducted by the Department of Workforce Development, 97 percent of students who have become youth apprentices say they would recommend the program to others.
Employers tell us they like the program because it gives them a head-start in finding valuable employees. In fact, two-thirds of the Youth apprenticeship class of 1995 were employed in the companies for which they apprenticed.
The Department of Workforce Development coordinates youth apprenticeshipswith local school districts, the technical college system, employers and their trade associations, parents and their children.