Column: The future workforce is here, working

July 17, 2014

From wausaudailyherald.com: “The future workforce is here, working” — By Donna Schulz-Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator for Northcentral Technical College – If you follow the news, you’ve heard about a shrinking workforce facing employers. As more baby boomers retire each year, employers need to find and develop individuals who will be able to support the growth of their businesses in the years ahead.

These news stories remind me of a public service announcement from television in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s; the question “Do you know where your children are?” was asked during the 10 p.m. news as a reminder to parents that it was important for them to know where their children were and what they were doing. It seems the question employers dealing with an aging workforce are trying to answer is, “Do you know where your future employees are?”

I can tell you part of the answer is that they’re right here in the community, going to high school (taking classes that might surprise you), and trying to find the answer to their own question, “Do you know where your future is?”

This past year, 309 juniors and seniors from 21 high schools within the Northcentral Technical College district were literally working to find the answer to that question for themselves by participating in Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program.

YA is a rigorous one- or two-year program that combines mentored, paid, on-the-job learning with academic and technical instruction related to a specific program area. That means students working at a local bank through a finance apprenticeship are studying business, math and financial management; students completing an apprenticeship in manufacturing are perhaps taking welding, machining and manufacturing classes; students working at a healthcare facility may have taken a nursing assistant course at NTC along with medical terminology, biology, anatomy and physiology at their high school.

These students are seeing a real-world connection between their classrooms and the workplace. An exit survey taken by high school seniors who finished their apprenticeships this year provides some thought-provoking data. Of 173 graduating seniors, 151 have plans to attend some type of post-secondary school. While 26 of these students hope to focus only on school, the rest have plans to work while in school. And here’s where it gets really interesting: 85 percent of those 125 students are continuing to work for their YA employer, and 71 percent will be majoring in a field related to their apprenticeship.

Based on these numbers, you can see that some employees of the future are here now, developing relationships with employers who are helping them find their futures. If you would like to learn more about opportunities to hire a youth apprentice, contact the youth apprenticeship coordinator at your local high school or Donna Schulz at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau at schulz@ntc.edu.

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