Editor’s Note: This commentary originally appeared in Community College Daily.
With industrial stalwarts like KOHLER Co., Manitowoc Co., Sargento Foods, Vollrath Co., Johnsonville Sausage, Bemis, Rockline Industries, Lakeside Foods — just to name a few — all located in a 40 mile radius in eastern Wisconsin, solving the national manufacturing skills gap has a decidedly local urgency.
Manufacturing represents 46 percent of all employment wages in Sheboygan County and 29 percent in Manitowoc County, so the lifeblood of the local economy is dependent on producing a large enough skilled workforce to keep these businesses here. Innovative solutions are needed to keep them vibrant and to even possibly attract new manufacturers.
Lakeshore Technical College (LTC), located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan near the Sheboygan–Manitowoc county line operates a program that is getting young people interested, experienced and subsequently hired in advanced manufacturing careers.
Funded by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the Youth Apprenticeship programs requires high school students to work 450 or more paid hours with a local employer, and 200 hours can come from summer employment. Students learn about the program through liaisons at local high schools, usually a guidance counselor or a teacher. They receive elective credits at their high school, and they are graded on the job by a trained mentor.
Each internship pays at least minimum wage and the positions mirror many of the adult apprenticeships or registered apprenticeships by having students go to school and work at the same time.
The program has grown rapidly in the past five years from 11 students from four high schools at four participating companies to 125 students from 16 high schools at more than 60 participating businesses this year. The investment by business to create good employees rather than hope for one to knock on their door is paying great dividends as three of every four youth apprentices are retained by the employer after graduation. (Many of them are likely to return to LTC for employer paid education as their careers progress.)
The program has promise to grow even further. Amerequip, a local designer of and manufacturer of custom equipment for the lawn, landscape, agricultural and construction markets, will have 14 youth apprentices this year. Students from four different high schools work in assembly, fabrication, welding, CNC machining, quality assurance and manufacturing engineering.
Last November, Amerequip hosted 140 high school students for a youth apprenticeship information session and a half-day plant tour. In May, 67 graduates of the program were recognized with Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson addressing a crowd of more than 300 guests.
Lakeshore Technical College is finding new ways to connect students with manufacturers by creating more opportunities for high school and college students to learn and gain experience in advanced manufacturing. That is allowing business, educators and economic development leaders the opportunity to build on programs like Youth Apprenticeship.
It’s working well. Most importantly, it’s keeping our local manufacturers working well, too.