Youth Apprenticeship Expands Horizons

You’ve heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”? It’s definitely more than just a phrase in Merrill. Since 2000, nearly 400 high school juniors and seniors – supported by their parents, teachers, and business leaders from more than 180 area employers – have benefited from a real-world connection between education and employment by participating in Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship (YA) program.

The YA Program is a one- or two-year statewide program that combines academic and technical instruction with mentored, paid, on-the-job learning. YAs work a minimum of 450 hours each year of their program while taking related high school or college classes. After meeting the competencies associated with their apprenticeship program, they receive a Certificate of Occupational Proficiency from the Department of Workforce Development, a certificate that is recognized by both colleges and businesses. It’s quite a commitment for all parties involved, so why do they do it?

For students, learning from skilled professionals increases their career awareness and improves their future employability, whether they’re going on to school or moving directly into the workforce. Merrill senior Chelsea Wiedenhoeft highly recommends the apprenticeship program. “It’s a great experience that all students need to try once. Getting a credit for working and getting work experience is awesome.” Chelsea completed a one-year hospitality apprenticeship working at Subway in Merrill.

Senior Emma Sowieja began her apprenticeship program working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Bell Tower Residence and finished working at her dad’s dental office. “The Health Youth Apprenticeship is a fantastic program, and it had a huge role in my decision to become a dentist. The Health Youth Apprenticeship has prepared me immensely for my path through dental school.”

“The apprenticeship program not only led me to the best job I have ever had but also the best experiences,” said Claire Zimmerman, another Merrill senior who recently completed her apprenticeship program at River Valley Bank. “The program has taught be how to operate in a professional manner, what is expected of an adult, and lastly that there are always things I can improve on. I would without a doubt recommend the program to incoming students.”

Andrew Caylor completed his apprenticeship working for Merrill Area Public Schools. “The Youth Apprenticeship program is a great way to learn new skills in a hands-on way. I became a youth apprentice so I could learn more about technology based careers and what needs to be done to keep it all working. I would recommend Youth Apprenticeship to people so they can see what’s out there in the world, and so they can better themselves for the future. Students in this program learn skills that will always be useful in the workplace, like working with others, being responsible, and meeting your employer’s expectations.”

The Youth Apprenticeship program gives employers the opportunity to shape the quality of their local workforce benefiting the entire community, and they get direct access to a pipeline of skilled workers to help grow their businesses.

According to Kris McGarigle, President of Ministry Good Samaritan Health Center in Merrill, “We enjoy working with Merrill High School and the Youth Apprenticeship program and believe that both Ministry Good Samaritan Health Center and the students in the YA program benefit. The students bring a fresh attitude and thirst for knowledge as they learn about patient care and support services, and our staff enjoys mentoring them. Several students have continued to work at Ministry Good Samaritan or go on to health-related careers after this program.”

Rainbow Hill Horse Ranch owners Tony and Lynnette Lassa support the YA program as well. “Students in the Youth Apprenticeship program are very willing to learn. They have a lot of energy, and a push to get things done. Several students have continued to work for us part-time even after their apprenticeship was completed. They’re always willing to help when needed.”

Brickner’s Park City in Merrill has been involved in the YA program for more than a decade. “It’s much less expensive to grow your employee base from a program such as this, and it’s very rewarding to see these young men and women become successful,” said Jim Brickner, vice president of Park City. Three of Brickner’s current full-time employees were hired as YAs and have a combined 40 years experience working for the dealership.

The YA program covers a broad spectrum of areas from Agriculture to Welding. Thank you to all of the local businesses that have supported the area’s future workforce through Youth Apprenticeships. Employers interested in hiring an apprentice can contact Marla Konkol at Merrill High School.

Donna Schulz is the Youth Apprenticeship Regional Coordinator at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau.

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