Editor’s note: To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, we are highlighting several successful Registered Apprenticeship programs across the state. Work-based learning opportunities, including Registered Apprenticeships, help provide hands-on career exploration and training for high school students in Iowa. Through these opportunities, students are able to experience a wide variety of career fields from advanced manufacturing to health care to information technology. These valuable experiences also align with the Future Ready Iowa goal of having 70 percent of Iowans with education and training beyond high school by 2025. National Apprenticeship Week runs Nov. 15-21 and is an annual event.
Tell us a little about the Registered Apprenticeship program that you offer to high school students? In particular, please share details on your welding and electronic systems technology opportunities.
We have three companies that we currently work with for the computer science apprenticeships. We have two electronic service technician students working for Per Mar Security installing and troubleshooting security systems throughout the Quad Cities. We also have one electronic service technician student working for Midwest Alarms Systems installing and troubleshooting fire alarm systems. Finally, we have five software developer students working for John Deere Worldwide. They are working in the areas of customer and product support (CPS), order management, cloud services and data and analytics.
We are working with four companies for our welding apprenticeships: Marco Group, Musco Lighting, John Deere Davenport Works and McLaughlin Motor Parts. Students in welding apprenticeships have a great overview of how to use and operate the same advanced welding and fabrication equipment used by professionals in the field. They do this by working independently and in teams to build, assemble and repair metal projects to meet industry and community needs.
What type of student is a good candidate for an apprenticeship program?
Good candidates for computer science do not need to be expert programmers. The students just need to have the basic tech skills. Companies are willing to train students on the tech skills needed for the job. More important are the soft skills that are learned over time. Students need to be highly motivated learners and be willing to ask questions when they are stuck. A good candidate is hard working and is a reliable team member. Students must be able to work with all types of personalities and have great customer service skills.
For welding, students must be in the process of completing the vocational welding program and should be ready to work in an environment where they will be using advanced welding techniques and fabrication equipment to manipulate metal for construction, industrial and artistic applications.
Why are apprenticeships important for strengthening Iowa’s workforce?
Apprenticeships create a strong work relationship between young people and Iowa companies. This relationship makes it more likely that students will stay in Iowa after graduating from college. The apprenticeship also gives companies access to a motivated workforce that might not be able to afford a college education.
What advantages do businesses have for sponsoring student apprenticeships?
Businesses sponsoring an apprenticeship are given the first access to potentially high-quality workers. The businesses are able to develop strong relationships with the students in their apprenticeship program.
How did you build relationships with business sponsors?
The biggest step we did was to get out of our classroom. We did after-school clubs that did community service projects sponsored by different companies, and we competed in different competitions that had local sponsors. We went to different community events to build relationships with employees at different companies. We also made sure that we had several public showcases to show what our students were learning and personally invited community leaders to the event. Finally, we had a dedicated employee who shows what our district has to offer to local companies.
What tips would you give to other schools/businesses that are looking to add an apprenticeship program to their work-based learning opportunities?
First off, it will take time to get the ball rolling, so don’t get discouraged. Secondly, it is critical to get those soft skills integrated into your curriculum and concentrate on the basic skills needed. Companies do not expect or want experts in the content. Instead, they want students who have excellent people skills, a strong desire to learn new things and a basic understanding of the skills needed in the apprenticeships.
Any other thoughts on your experience with apprenticeships?
Do not delay starting the apprenticeship because you do not feel like your students have the skills needed to be successful. If the students in your program have a basic understanding and the soft skills listed above, then your program is more than ready to start an apprenticeship program.