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Youth Apprenticeship Collaboration

August 3, 2023

by Mike Snowberry, Director of Learning Services, Luxemburg-Casco School District in Luxemburg, WI

Did you know that 10,000 people a day nationally cross the retirement threshold of age 65 and that more than half of U.S. adults 55 and older said they were out of the labor force due to retirement? On top of that, McKinsey & Company states that since the start of the pandemic in 2020, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people taking early retirement, with 1.7 million workers retiring from the labor force earlier than expected.

In Wisconsin, high schools produce only 65,000 graduates on average each year? Statistics such as these point to a major labor shortage, both currently and in the future.

Shaping the Region's Future Workforce

In Northeast Wisconsin, three educational and business entities have come together to collaborate on the fastest-growing Youth Apprenticeship program in the state, helping to shape the region’s future workforce while moving toward a solution.

A September 2022 report by Forward Analytics, the research arm of the Wisconsin Counties Association, indicates that without more people moving to Wisconsin the state’s working-age population is projected to shrink by approximately 130,000 people within the next eight years.

Wisconsin tends to lose more college graduates than it retains. At least 106,000 people, age 26 or younger, have left the state over the past decade, according to the report. To help stem the resulting long-term consequences for Wisconsin’s labor force, it is critical to keep more of these young people in the state.

The Washington Post found that Wisconsin loses slightly more than 20 percent of its college graduates on average when it analyzed “brain drain” by the state in September 2022.

The Benefits of a Robust Youth Apprenticeship Program

One way to attempt to reverse these troubling statistics is to nurture and grow a robust Youth Apprenticeship program. Students who build a relationship with a business at a younger age through the workplace are more likely to remain engaged in their current community.

On a personal level, students who participate in Youth Apprenticeship tend to feel good about themselves. It also demonstrably changes the way that some students feel about school, including those who previously struggled. YA participants additionally are able to reduce the time they spend in college – resulting in financial savings – by earning college credits through career-focused coursework and practical experience.

Youth Apprenticeship business partners do an outstanding job of mentoring students, creating a training plan, and fostering professional growth. YA participants often remain at their current employer, while receiving raises and other incentives in recognition of their work at a younger age.

The companies, faced with their own workforce shortages as the baby-boomer generation retires, appreciate the opportunity to engage with students at an early age, and have stepped up to support our apprenticeship programs. Even industries that traditionally would be averse to employing high-school students, like healthcare, are enjoying positive experiences and find that many of today’s students are mature and purpose-driven.

Youth Apprenticeship Career Clusters

Years ago, Youth Apprentice was perceived as being for jobs in the construction industry and for male students. In reality, it includes 11 of the 16 established career clusters and an increasing number of female students. The career clusters include agriculture, hospitality/tourism, manufacturing, marketing/sales, and transportation/logistics, among others.

YA also is appropriate for four-year, college-bound students, which allows them to have a personalized experience in a work environment to affirm their choice of an enjoyable career pathway.

The Ahnapee Regional Youth Apprenticeship program, serving a small number of high schools in Northeast Wisconsin, began in 2017 with three students from Luxemburg-Casco High School. By the end of the calendar year 2021, it had grown to more than 275 students.

The Kewaunee School District joined us at the outset. Patti Vickman, the now-retired superintendent of Southern Door School district, and Todd Thayse, retired vice president of Fincantieri Marinette Marine, both board members of the Door County Economic Development Corporation at the time, were instrumental in bringing Youth Apprenticeship to the neighboring county.

Youth Apprenticeship School-Based Coaches

This model is unique in using the majority of available funds to hire Youth Apprentice school-based coaches, who work right in the schools. This seems to be the “secret sauce” for success – the coaches have access to students all day and can release them from study hall.

The primary goal of a school-based coach is to help the students explore areas of passion for a future career. The coaches provide individualized support, talking and working with students to identify their interests, then suggesting appropriate coursework and job-shadow opportunities. Ideally, this should occur in the student’s freshman or sophomore year, with the YA position starting the summer and heading into their junior year.

To maximize career readiness at the high school level, one full-time counselor or school-based coach devoted full-time to counseling per every 150 students is recommended. Others, seeing the success of Ahnapee Regional Youth Apprenticeship, began asking for information on how the program operated. This dialogue ultimately resulted in a broader partnership that serves a wider geographic area of students and businesses.

In 2022, Ahnapee Regional Youth Apprenticeship joined with the Greater Green Bay Chamber and Cooperative Educational Service Agency 7 (CESA 7) to form Northeast Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship (NEWYA). The new consortium combined the strengths of the three organizations and created a robust academic- and career-planning program that is customizable to individual school districts.

A Unique Partnership

The partnership is unique in its composition, having a business entity, school districts, and a CESA work together to create programming. Working collaboratively, issues have been resolved and multiple grants have been written toward funding a common goal.

NEWYA is funded by state grants from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and private investment. Its goal is to provide a regional workforce solution that connects area employers with thousands of students who would like to gain hands-on, career experience as one part of their time in high school.

CESA 7 has supported career readiness, academic and career planning, and career pathway development in its districts. However, CESA 7 had not been in the Youth Apprenticeship space, which is a natural complement to the quality programming already happening in its 38 school districts, ensuring that all students are college and career ready at the time of graduation. Agency Administrator Dr. Colleen Timm saw a huge need for growing Youth Apprenticeship opportunities in the region and wanted CESA 7 to be part of it.

Under the direction of Dr. Marci Waldron-Kuhn, CESA 7 director of college, career, and life readiness, NEWYA strives to create customized programs for individual school districts, bringing ACP, YA, and CTE funding under a single umbrella.

The Greater Green Bay Chamber is committed to solving the ongoing talent shortage on behalf of its member businesses. Its ability to recruit businesses and to connect students with area companies has been a real win-win solution as many YA participants eventually transition to full-time employees.

Eric Vanden Heuvel, who has served as vice president of talent and education for the Chamber along with being a past president of the Green Bay Area Public School District Board of Education,  identifies NEWYA as a critical strategy in retaining the many talented students produced by schools in Northeast Wisconsin.

Though NEWYA represented 30 percent of Youth Apprenticeship growth in the state of Wisconsin while serving 22 high schools, continued expansion of student participation rates is key to the program’s ultimate success. Continued growth in the coming months and years is anticipated. But, like many things, funding is at the heart of future success. Dr. Timm has been coordinating meetings between CESA 7 district superintendents and Wisconsin state legislators around the issue of additional funding for Youth Apprenticeship. Only through continuing to grow YA capacity can student needs be met while feeding into a strong workforce and society.

Wisconsin Act 59 dollars and Act 9 Youth Apprenticeship grant funds financially support Act 20 to assist school districts in creating academic and career opportunities that result in college credits and skills certificates for students in the state. These funds are buttressed by the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Incentive Grant program, established in 2013.

School-based career coaches currently are supporting students at a 1:125 ratio. Reducing the student ratio to roughly 1:100 youth apprentice coaches to students would require an increase in funding from $1,100 to $1,700 per student.

In March 2023, there were more than 1,000 students participating in the Northeast Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program during fiscal year 22-23, which was an increase from 438 students placed a year ago. This year’s participants span 18 different school districts, and students actively worked at 691 different employers. The average wage earned by participating students was $13.95 per hour and the total estimated wages earned was nearly $6.3 million.

In the 2023-24 academic year, David Gordon, a current school-based coach and CTE coordinator for CESA 7, in conjunction with other school-based coaches set a goal of placing 1,400 students in the next school year. More broadly, Wisconsin currently has a 6 percent participation rate in Youth Apprenticeship. With a goal of achieving a YA student-engagement level of 50 percent, it will take 30-50 years at the existing growth rate. The model described in this article is scalable across the state of Wisconsin, and beyond. Accelerating this growth rate could go a long way in solving the current workforce deficiencies in the available workforce, no matter the location.

Mike Snowberry is the director of learning services for the Luxemburg-Casco School District in Luxemburg, Wis., and helped lead the creation of the Northeast Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship. He was the 2022 winner of AESA’s Walter G. Turner Award. Snowberry can be reached by phone at 920.360.0569 and by email at


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