D214 apprentices gain on-the-job experience, earn college credit
Any solid foundation offers the opportunity for growth and expansion.
Now several months into its second year, High School District 214's apprenticeship program is building on the success of its inaugural year by branching out to serve more students in more fields. Adding, for the first time, community partners serving as apprenticeship hosts and mentors.
District 214 offers many work-based learning experiences designed to prepare students for success after graduation. None is more rigorous or directly relevant to students' future work than the apprenticeship program.
In District 214, four seniors from the Class of 2020 completed their apprenticeships in spite of pandemic-related challenges. Now a second cohort of seniors -- seven this time -- are engaged in apprenticeships. Three are working in cybersecurity, two in automotive, one as a nursing assistant and one in construction and trades.
District 214 Partnership Manager Kathy Wicks explains the mutual benefit of adding community hosts after an initial year in which District 214 served as host for apprentices working in HVAC and cybersecurity.
"We are trying to help our hosts with their talent pipeline," Wicks said. "Health care providers, for example, are always looking for talent. It's a natural fit -- we have students looking for training and the apprenticeship hosts get a chance to train prospective employees."
This year, Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Center in Wheeling, R & R Towing and Auto Repair Services in Wheeling, Symphony of Buffalo Grove and Arlington Heights Ford all offered to serve as hosts.
While the pandemic compelled some partners to delay their involvement, Wicks is no less grateful for their willingness to work with District 214.
"This virus threw everyone for a loop, and it was important for us as a district to understand and meet our partners where they are," she said.
Apprenticeships differ from internships or other work-based learning experiences in that students devote more hours to apprenticeships. And -- significantly -- they get paid. The program is rigorous and designed for students who have made firm decisions about a career choice by midway through their junior year.
Once apprentices are selected, they engage in about 15 hours per week of on-the-job training during the school year, in addition to college coursework and mentoring.
Prospect High School senior Bethany Cook, working in a cybersecurity apprenticeship, said of the opportunity: "This apprenticeship has already helped me advance my education because I'm enrolled in college classes for cybersecurity/networking. I thought this program would be specific to security, but it is exposing me to options in other parts of the field that will help me make more informed career choices in the future."
She also spoke of the program's value in professional networking.
"I have been taught from a very young age that you can always learn something from everyone, and I take that very seriously. Just being able to make connections with people that are already in the field and learn how they got to where they are will always interest me."
Elk Grove High School senior Brendan Shorey, working in construction and trades, said, "The apprenticeship is helping me learn how to correctly use heavy tools and read measurements. It's taught me a lot of ways to be safe and work in the construction environment."
During the summer, apprentices work up to 28 hours a week to expand their skills. At the end of the program, students receive either a federally registered apprenticeship certification or a youth apprenticeship certification in addition to up to a year of college credits.
While the second cohort is delving into their work, it's a good time for juniors to consider whether an apprenticeship could fit with their career goals. District 214 has bumped the deadline to apply for 2021-22 apprenticeships back to Jan. 15, 2021.
Counselors will have an opportunity to talk with juniors as they prepare to register for senior courses.
"CTE teachers will use this time to help identify juniors who have passion for a certain industry and have an appetite for an authentic experience that will catapult them into a career post secondary," Wicks said.
Looking ahead, Wicks said, the program's goal is to roughly double the number of apprenticeships each year and to add additional fields. Any business interested in learning more may contact Partnership Manager Kathy Wicks at email@example.com.
Students interested in getting involved can learn more and apply at www.discover214.org/apprenticeships.