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Cost-effective talent strategy grows at record pace

Youth apprenticeships programs seen as one solution to the dire need for talent acquisition, retention

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June 16, 2023

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – With a falling unemployment rate and baby boomers retiring at an accelerating rate, businesses are more concerned about talent attraction and retention than ever.

The solution is multifaceted, and a growing piece of that puzzle is being found in youth apprenticeships (YA) – and growing may be an understatement.

In spring, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) announced record participation in statewide youth apprenticeship programs for the 2022-23 school year.

This past school year, 8,357 high school juniors and seniors pursued YA, which is up 30% from the 2021-22 school year.
That previous school year, according to the DWD, continued a year-over-year, record-breaking trend in the adoption of what is described as a cost-effective talent solution. 

This trend is occurring in parts of Northeast Wisconsin as well, including youth apprenticeships overseen by the Northeast Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship (NEWYA) consortium – which materialized in July 2022.

NEWYA represents a partnership between the Greater Green Bay Chamber, Cooperative Educational Service Agency 7 (CESA 7) and the former Ahnapee Youth Apprenticeship Consortium.

Together, they established a unified, regional solution to connect employers with thousands of students who want to pursue YA.

These students, Eric Vanden Heuvel, vice president of talent and education for the chamber, said, need business as much as businesses need them to bolster their workforce – calling it a “win-win proposition for employers and students.”

“Businesses are constantly looking for unique ways to address their hiring needs in this historically tight labor market,” he said. “Hiring high school students as youth apprentices is an innovative way to access and inspire young people and spark interest in a variety of industries. “It is truly a win-win proposition for employers and students.”

Allows students to ‘try on’ careers
YA is a talent acquisition strategy that originated as the Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship Program when it was authorized by the State Legislature in 1991.

It was established in an effort to improve the job readiness skills of high school graduates. Today, businesses participating in YA hire high school juniors or seniors for a one- or two-year apprenticeship through a program managed by a variety of entities through a program overseen by the Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

During the apprenticeship, according to the DWD, YA participants:
Continue to attend high schoolTake courses related to his/her desired professionOften gain occupational-specific knowledge through an area technical college or private training centerWork at a business that provides relevant, hands-on skills.
Students earn while they learn, obtaining high school and/or college credit, relevant work experience and a paycheck that pays them at least minimum wage.

// is a junior at Wrightstown High School and is currently an apprentice at Pavliks Painting. Mackenzie plans to join the military and someday become a carpenter in the construction field. Submitted Photo

Locally, the YA program for CESA 7 – which serves dozens of Northeast Wisconsin school districts – is coordinated by NEWYA.
It offers 11 (soon to be 13) of the 16 career clusters outlined by DWD.

These include:
Agriculture, food and natural resourcesArchitecture and constructionArt, audiovisual technology and communicationsFinanceHealth sciencesHospitality and tourismInformation technologyManufacturingMarketingScience, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)Transportation, distribution and logistics.
According to NEWYA, students can earn a state-certified certificate of completion in their preferred career cluster, earning elective credits during their junior and/or senior year through paid employment. 

Which businesses are ideal for YA
Historically, Marci Waldron-Kuhn, director of career, college and life readiness at CESA 7, said the program has had a strong foundation in the trades, including the manufacturing industry.

But that, Waldron-Kuhn said, has diversified significantly over time.

“It isn’t just for the trades anymore,” she said. “Manufacturing has always been strong, but we’re seeing growth in areas of healthcare and new areas of interest in education and business management.”

In the state, Waldron-Kuhn said the YA pathways with the highest participation are:
Manufacturing at 1,509 studentsHealth science at 1,393 studentsAgriculture, food and natural resources at 1,048 studentsArchitecture and construction at 1,039 studentsMarketing at 1,015 students
Within NEWYA, Waldron-Kuhn said the highest career cluster participation is in hospital and tourism (181 students), manufacturing (177 students), marketing (150 students), architecture and construction (144 students), health science (140 students), agriculture, food and natural resources (106 students), transportation, distribution and logistics (84 students) sector, with smaller numbers in IT, STEM and arts/AV tech/comm. 

Waldron-Kuhn said YA continues to evolve as the state progrm continues to add new pathways.

She said there are already plans to create pathways in five broad program areas: education and training, business management and administration, government and public administration, human services and law, public safety, corrections and security.
Waldron-Kuhn said those are anticipated to start by fall 2024. 

“It is an opportunity for all students,” she said. “It extends from the struggling student to the valedictorian. From the student who wants to go directly into the workforce to those who want a two-year or four-year degree or to go into the military.”

On the fast track closer to home as well
NEWYA is keeping pace with state trends for YA participation.

According to the organization, during the 2021-22 school year, the former Ahnapee Consortium placed 276 students with businesses, and the Greater Green Bay Chamber Youth Apprenticeship program placed 135 students with businesses for a total of 411 students.

In 2022-23, NEWYA placed 1,034 students in 22 participating high schools with more than 700 businesses.

“This was one-third of the growth in YA placements in the state,” Waldron-Kuhn said. 

The state average for YA participation, she said, is 4-6% of a high school’s student population – NEWYA’s goal is 20%. 

“We got to 14% this past year, but we’re aiming for 20%,” Waldron-Kuhn said. “We do have high schools, like Luxemburg-Casco, with 50% or higher participation and Pulaski High School at 40-50% of participation.”

Waldron-Kuhn said she anticipates that number to jump even higher in the 2023-24 school year as new pathways are released.

Where NEWYA is making its mark
Merging the formerly-separate Youth Apprenticeship programs into NEWYA, led by CESA-7, Waldron-Kuhn said made sense.
Cooperative Educational Service Agencies – better known as CESAs – help school districts share staff, services and purchasing and provide a link between local districts and the state.

All services provided are determined by participating member school districts. 

CESA 7’s mission, Waldron-Kuhn said, is to support school districts in preparing students to be college, career and life ready by providing high-quality and innovative services delivered by recognized experts.

She said CESA-7 is well positioned to support youth apprenticeship as an aspect of delivering Academic and Career Planning (ACP).

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) requires students to create ACPs in grades six through 12 to encourage self-exploration, career exploration and work-based learning.

At its root, according to DPI, is a goal of empowering students to travel the road to adulthood through education and training that position them to obtain viable careers. 

CESA 7 works with 38 school districts.

Of those, Waldron-Kuhn said, 18 school districts have participated in YA to date.

They include:
Algoma School DistrictAshwaubenon School DistrictBrillion School DistrictCedar Grove-Belgium School DistrictGibraltar School DistrictGreen Bay Area Public School DistrictHartford School DistrictHoward-Suamico School DistrictKewaunee School DistrictLuxemburg-Casco School DistrictPulaski School DistrictSevastopol School DistrictSouthern Door County School DistrictSturgeon Bay School DistrictUnified School District of De PereWashington Island School DistrictWest De Pere School DistrictWrightstown School District
This coming year, Waldron-Kuhn said NEWYA will also absorb districts in Manitowoc County.

NEWYA provides leadership and facilitation, providing the support of a diverse steering committee and YA school-based coaches.

Waldron-Kuhn said the school-based YA coaches are integral to the program’s and the students’ success.

“We know how important it is to be front-facing with students,” she said. “As students explore careers, they explore the ones they know and not all the careers out there. The more we can get businesses in front of students, the more we can open doors that students didn’t know existed.”

Although CESA 7 focuses on the students, Waldron-Kuhn said this work is complemented by the business side of the equation with the Greater Green Bay Chamber recruiting and onboarding participating businesses.

The immense business opportunities of YA
Waldron-Kuhn said businesses participating in YA are asked to identify an employee who will serve as the youth apprentice’s mentor, ensuring all proper training and guidance is provided to the student learner.

Performance evaluations are conducted quarterly with the apprentice, who is expected to work a minimum of 450 hours in the apprenticeship annually.

// is a junior at De Pere High School and currently has a youth apprenticeship as an auto technician at the Brown County Sheriff’s Office. Submitted Photo

But it’s an investment that Waldron-Kuhn said has immense payback. 

With youth apprenticeships, Waldron-Kuhn said businesses have a means of developing their own “employee pipeline” by giving students an opportunity to explore the work environment and to test careers.

Students become a value-add to businesses alongside their full-time employee peers.

Waldron-Kuhn said through YA, businesses have access to a skilled, eager learner they can train per company standards and work processes – in turn filling workforce gaps in the interim and creating a future pipeline of employees.

In many cases, Waldron-Kuhn said participating businesses have such a great experience that, when possible, they welcome the student to the team full-time after he/she completes post-secondary education.

According to the DWD, employers extend permanent job offers to more than 71% of graduating youth apprentices annually. 
“Some turn into employees right away,” Waldron-Kuhn said. “Some go to college and return for an internship during summer break and (join the team as a full-time employee) later.”

Waldron-Kuhn said businesses also have an opportunity to showcase their employment brand with a whole new generation, while at the same time showing their commitment to investing in the future workforce and supporting their community. 

“Students are the best word of mouth – telling their friends about their experience with businesses right up the road that students drive past every day but don’t know what they do,” she said. “Students realize, ‘I can do marketing right up the street. I can go into healthcare right up the street. I don’t have to move away to do that.’”

Waldron-Kuhn said these students are your billboards for businesses out in the community.

“Some industries have an aging workforce and need to get in front of students so they realize what their opportunities look like,” she said.

In doing so, Waldron-Kuhn said businesses can help students find and/or ignite a spark in a career area. 

“We know we are doing the right thing because employers get as excited as students and parents,” she said. 

Waldron-Kuhn said she encourages businesses to think broadly.

Although a manufacturing business employs manufacturing technicians, engineers, etc., it also employs accounting, marketing and information technology.

“When we talk about career clusters or pathways, we use Lambeau Field as an example because you can find all 16 career clusters there,” she said. “Or in a hospital… You may think of one box for YA, but almost every aspect of your business could have a youth apprentice.”

A case study: Broadway Automotive
Waldron-Kuhn said Broadway Automotive walks the talk when it comes to being a huge proponent of YA, which the business has been for more than 20 years.

Currently, the Green Bay and Manitowoc locations have 10 youth apprentices between them working as youth apprentices in both automotive shop areas and the collision center.

In many cases, Waldron-Kuhn said apprentices who begin working under the guidance of shop foremen stay on as full-time employees. 

“We have an employee who was a youth apprentice under a shop foreman who has been here as an employee for 21 years,” Paula Kuse, human resources director with Broadway Automotive, said. “That shows the tenure we have with some of our apprentices.” 

Kuse said it’s been amazing to watch the apprentices grow, mature and become adept at a career.

Simultaneously, she said they’re fully-contributing employees who have an interest in the automotive industry.

“We have kids who are dedicated, committed and want to learn, and we take them and mold them and help them hone their craft,” she said. “We show them a good culture and a safe place to learn and many stay with us. We’ve seen a lot of success with that.”

Kuse said if high school isn’t the end game for their YA students and they go to technical college for other certifications, “we invest in them with a sizable tuition reimbursement and their own toolkits.”

“We will invest $20,000 in them by the time they finish high school if they are a good team player and a reliable young adult who wants to stick with the industry,” she said.

As the human resources director, Kuse said she knows the challenges of attracting talent, a topic that is of great focus for the dealership as many of its long-time, tenured employees with 25-, 30- and even 40-year careers with Broadway Automotive are on the cusp of retirement. 

“We know if we don’t bring in this new talent, we will be hit, and hit hard, in a few years,” she said. “It’s cool to see these kids learning from people who have been doing this for decades and are ‘passing the torch’ to the next generation.”

Kuse said she encourages businesses to be open to YA participation because it can significantly impact a business’s ability to deliver on its mission. 

“If businesses aren’t open to creative ways to fill the talent void, they aren’t going to be relevant down the road,” she said. “They learn a valuable trade or skill and you get production from them while they are here. It’s a win-win all around. We’re now considering how we can branch out into other YA areas as well.”

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