MHS Youth Apprenticeship Program: 20 years of community partnerships

Jeremy Ratliff

The onset of the 2019-20 school has proven more meaningful than just another year for one MAPS program in particular; as it marked the 20th anniversary of the MHS Youth Apprenticeship (YA) Program.As former Regional YA Coordinator Donna Schulz explains, the program was created at the state level to fill a need for trained employees, entering the workforce.
“The state program was piloted in 1993 and became statewide in 1995. The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) saw a need for trained employees for our Wisconsin businesses,” she explains.”It was a program to help high school students in the state solidify a career to pursue after high school.”
Four years later, in the wake of two years worth of surveys and studies, the MHS Youth Apprenticeship Program was born. The endeavor was a result of a collaborative effort between Lincoln County Partners in Education (LCPie) through Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), MAPS administration, Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers, and the Merrill business community.
The program has come a long way since that start-up effort. In fact, YA has not only grown to involve over 10 times as many students over the last 20 years, but has been recognized by the DWD has having the highest program enrollment in the state, for an independent consortium.
Nine students participated in YA during the pilot year of 1999-2000, working with a handful of employers such as Reindl Printing, Brickners Park City and Park Credit Union. To date, 90 students have already enrolled for the first semester of the 2019-20 school year; working with 52 area employers. Since students can enroll through early February, that number could easily grow to shatter the standing record of 103 participants, set last year.
“I continue to be impressed by everybody associated with our Youth Apprenticeship Program,” comments MAPS Superintendent Dr. John Sample.
“Our students truly benefit from the partnerships established throughout the community.”
Given the feedback from participating employers, the rapid growth of the program may come as no big surprise.
Merrill ACE Hardware has been an active YA partner since 2005.
“We became involved with the Youth Apprenticeship Program within a year of opening our doors and we couldn’t be happier with the results,” explains ACE c-owner D’Lacey Haight.
“We have had students work in various areas of the store from assembling items to be sold in the store, working the cash register to merchandising. The greatest aspect for me, is to watch the students develop during their time with us. For instance one of our most recent students had been with us three years. When he first came to us, he was rather shy. But when he left us, he was able to interact with just about anyone, he had a greater sense of confidence and best of all, he had developed better communication skills that will benefit him for the rest of his life! Working in a diverse customer service can be such a wonderful learning experience!”
To date, Merrill ACE Hardware has employed five YA students either on a part-time or full-time basis.
”Our growth has been based on a few things,” explains first-year MHS program coordinator Karen Akey.

MHS Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator Karen Akey.

“Former YA coordinator Marla Konkol believed and had a passion for Merrill High School’s Youth Apprenticeship Program. She truly believed students needed opportunities to explore careers, and learn life lessons with employers and mentors.  Our relationships with our employers is another key to our success. We currently are working with 50-plus employers in the Merrill area and they are all very supportive and optimistic for our youth, in teaching them foundation work skills,” she adds.
“The third attribute is the Merrill school district. The elementary schools, middle school and high school have each created job opportunities for students, and understand that education and the work environment go hand-in-hand.  It’’s a win-win for all!”
“Karen has sent me students that she felt would be a good fit for our business,” comments Merrill AmericInn General Manager Ernie Stender.
“Most have been in housekeeping. Out of 205 AmericInns in the country, we have been ranked as high as #2. We have very high standards here in Merrill. We are scored through surveys in several categories by our guests and cleanliness is usually our highest score. Our lead housekeeper takes a great deal of pride in her job and responsibilities. She teaches the students the only way that they are to clean. There are no shortcuts. She also inspects their work. Their job is very structured which will help them in the future and in whatever career path they take,” he explains.
“I’ve really been pleased with their efforts. I believe in hiring students and teaching them to respect their job, their bosses, co-workers and the business. I look forward to working with the MHS Youth Apprenticeship for years to come.”
As for the future of the program, Akey is optimistic and eager to explore further program expansion into the building trades. “I’m excited to continue the success and growth of YA. With our strong partnerships, it only gets better for our students and businesses. I would like to see us continue to grow employer partnerships for our students, along with communication to educate students, parents and community on the YA program and the benefits for all. Another goal is to focus attention on the opportunities for seniors and graduates with adult apprenticeships. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers and ironworkers just to name a few, are in great demand with great pay and the opportunities are endless.”
For more information on the MHS Youth Apprenticeship Program, Akey can be reached at (715) 536-4594 ext. 18039 or [email protected]

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