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CESA 6 YA program offers 75 career paths

Apprenticeships support more than 3,000 students

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May 1, 2024

OSHKOSH – Rarely is there a program that benefits a diverse group of high school students while bringing value to a broad base of business and industry sectors.

Tania Kilpatrick, director of CESA 6, said the youth apprenticeship (YA) – which was started in the early 1990s – is a program that unites both entities.

“Youth apprenticeships started in Wisconsin in 1991 under Gov. Tommy Thompson,” she said. “CESA 6 was one of the initial consortiums that was part of that groundbreaking implementation in our state. It started with one program in the printing industry.”

Kilpatrick said CESA 6 is a nonprofit, member-driven cooperative educational service agency – one of 12 in the state.

With offices headquartered in Oshkosh, she said CESA 6 is governed by an 11-member board of control representing the public school districts in the region.

Kilpatrick said the number of students participating in the YA program has grown exponentially since its inception.

“When I first started at CESA 6 as a consultant, we had roughly 60 students in the YA program, and now we are supporting more than 3,000 students,” she said. “There are currently 11 career areas, but that will expand to 16 in the fall.”

Kilpatrick said each of the career clusters supports various pathways, which break down into more than 75 distinct career program areas ranging from sales, marketing and finance to agriculture, health care and government.

“The number of student engagements has grown from 1,175 students in 2022 to 3,348 in 2024,” she said.

Though the largest percentage growth for placements is reflected in health sciences, manufacturing, agriculture and architecture, Kilpatrick said the progression in the program spans across all sectors.

“Those sectors are visible, but overall, every sector has increased,” she said. “The surge in popularity of the youth apprenticeship program boils down to one simple truth – it works by arming young people with the skills they need to hit the ground running in their careers. These programs are not just keeping pace with industry demands, they’re setting pace within our region in our state.”

Kilpatrick also said that the program has a unifying effect.

“The program brings everyone to the table, from educators and policymakers to employers – all united and shaping the future workforce,” she said.

All are welcome
The sustainability of the youth apprenticeship program, Kilpatrick said, is directly linked to the foundation of the partnerships between employers and students.

“That collaboration and synergy is what is ensuring these programs are well-designed, are aligned with industry needs and still accessible to a diverse population of students, geography and employers,” she said.

Kilpatrick said students participate in academic and career planning in their high school years, but the seeds of career interests can begin as early as sixth grade.

CESA 6, she said, works collaboratively to expose students to career opportunities to get them engaged in what the possibilities might be.

Kilpatrick said coordinators are assigned to work with particular students as they support the role of the guidance counselor.

It’s also important to note, she said, that YA applicants are not guaranteed a spot at a place of employment.

“The student applicants are required to go through the formal hiring process because we want to make sure students encounter that professional experience,” she said. “We want to make sure there’s (both) choice and voice with the employer and the student on the placement.”

Kilpatrick said students must enroll in and complete one high school credit or three college credits of related concurrent instruction for each year they are enrolled in the program. Students also need to be at least 16 years old and are eligible to start the application process during the second semester of their sophomore year.

Kilpatrick said students are not eligible to begin their YA employment until the summer entering into their junior year and have the flexibility to be in the program for one or two years.

Every youth apprentice that successfully completes the career path program requirements, she said, will earn an occupational skills proficiency certification, which verifies they have gained the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to be successful in their chosen industry within the State of Wisconsin.

YA students, Kilpatrick said, will complete 450 hours of training, or almost 20 hours per week within their career area of interest under the guidance of an experienced mentor.

With that said, things don’t always go as planned.

“In some programs, we have more student interest as compared to employer partners,” she said. “(And then in) some programs, we have more employment opportunities and a limited application pool. And sometimes geography and schedules play into this.”

Kilpatrick said there can sometimes be initial skepticism on the part of employers about the skillsets of high schoolers and their readiness for the workplace.

“The growth and the return of employer partners year after year indicates we are breaking down those preconceived notions regarding student ability,” she said.

Kilpatrick said there is also a misconception that students who take on apprenticeships do not go on to pursue post-secondary education.

Youth apprentices complete 450 hours of training, or almost 20 hours per week within their career area of interest under the guidance of an experienced mentor. Photo Courtesy of CESA 6

“But apprenticeships serve as a significant catalyst for expanding opportunities for students,” she said. “It becomes an options multiplier. Following an apprenticeship experience, we are consistently reporting an offer rate by employers that surpasses 90%. This underscores students’ readiness for the workplace.”

Companies are expanding the departments in which students can explore apprenticeships, Kilpatrick said.

“We continually see employers come back year after year, and they tend to increase the number of students they’re looking to hire and or they expand the roles and positions they’re looking to hire for,” she said. “They may have started in the program with manufacturing and are now offering an apprenticeship in accounting and sales and marketing.”

Kilpatrick said students circle back to CESA 6 with feedback and share the program has offered a step up in their careers.

“Many stay with their employer full-time, or they continue with part-time employment while enrolled in postsecondary education,” she said. “Students tell us their apprenticeship has propelled them above their peers in getting direct admittance into programs requiring clinical hours and have given them an advantage for sought-after internships because of their work experience as an apprentice.”

Kilpatrick said CESA 6 continues to see the number of students pursuing registered apprenticeships across the state or pursuing technical college.

“Our students also go on to pursue four-year degrees,” she said.

The program changes students’ lives, Kilpatrick said.

“You can have students who are teetering on the brink of not graduating, and students who have been accepted into prestigious colleges and have their career pathways mapped out – both scenarios (show how) students find a sense of purpose and relevance which ignites their hope for the future,” she said.

Kilpatrick said CESA 6 YAs meet students at their career crossroads.

“The youth apprenticeship program either solidifies this is the career choice meant for them, or it provides them with the necessary information to make an informed decision that may not be the right choice for them,” she said. “And so rather than investing additional time and money, they have time to pivot and try something else.”

Kilpatrick said CESA 6 sees ongoing, mutually beneficial matches for both students and mentors.

“Employers leverage this by providing leadership opportunities to their employees who are looking to advance within their organization,” she said. “It also rekindles the spark for workers who have been in the organization for a long time. Now they get to coach.”

Kilpatrick said it’s a win-win for all involved.

“Students journey from the nerve-wracking interview preparations to the celebration of getting the job offer to hearing the employers commend their progress,” she said. “Even the mentors are sometimes taken aback by the depths of influence they have had on the students’ lives while witnessing students expressing gratitude for the support they’ve received.It has been incredibly moving for mentors.”

For more information on the youth apprenticeship program, visit

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