While apprenticeships have played a vital role in steering students to manufacturing and construction careers, that has not been the case yet with IT. But a push to get more businesses in the New North interested in hosting IT apprentices is aimed at changing that.
Sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the youth apprenticeship program integrates school- and work-based learning to provide students with the skills they need for jobs in high-demand fields. Wisconsin has offered IT apprenticeship programs since 2011 in four areas: general IT essentials, network hardware, programming software, and web and digital media.
“In my consortium (CESA 6), we have 1,000 students in apprenticeships, but less than 5 percent are in IT and that’s not for lack of interest, but rather opportunity,” says Tania Kilpatrick, director of the CESA 6 College and Career Readiness Center. “I witnessed a handful of students quit the IT pathway and pursue a different program during their senior year.”
All industries face a workforce shortage, but finding skilled IT workers in the region is especially difficult. After a 2015 study found the New North would need 3,000 more IT professionals by 2021, the NEW IT Alliance was created to help bridge the gap. One of the NEW IT Alliance’s focuses is improving K-12 computer science education in the region and getting more schools to offer additional computer science courses.
“The regional schools understand the importance of IT to the vitality of our region and have continued to invest in curriculum and teacher training to support career exploration and development within IT pathways,” Kilpatrick says. “The missing piece to the puzzle, if we are going to really tackle the pipeline issues and support diversity in IT fields, is opening more opportunities for youth apprenticeship capstone experiences within the region.”
Kilpatrick says students receive the message that IT is a high-need field with lots of growth and opportunity. However, when they are toward the end of the pathway course sequence in high school, which includes college-level courses, “they are not experiencing the same opportunities for YA capstone placements as their peers in other pathway areas.”
For the IT youth apprenticeship program to be successful, Kilpatrick says it’s vital to get more businesses involved.
As part of the program, the state requires businesses to interview and hire a YA student, provide-on-the-job training, pay the student, participate in regular progress reviews, ensure 450 hours of worksite training per year (that averages to 12 hours per school week), and participate in mentor training, which is approximately 90 minutes and can be done virtually or face-to-face with new mentors and employers.
Students in apprenticeship programs can learn more about a potential career and, in the case of IT, determine the areas they’re most interested in. After the apprenticeship ends, students can decide to continue working at the business they’re partnered with (Kilpatrick says the majority receive job offers), go on to a four-year university or tech college to further their learning or a combination of both. “Some students work at the business while they’re furthering their education,” she says.
Apprenticeships benefit not only students and businesses, but the wider community as well since it’s anticipated students will stay in the area and continue their careers.
“By investing in talent development through apprenticeship, employers gain a pipeline of loyal skilled workers, increase productivity and improve the bottom line. Through apprenticeship, businesses have the opportunity to train workers to meet their specific standards,” Kilpatrick says. “Many of our YA partners indicate that the program has increased worker morale due to the eagerness, creativity and enthusiasm that these young people bring into their organizations.”
Laying the groundwork
The NEW IT Alliance received a grant from the Department of Public Instruction to develop a series of connected education, training and support strategies — also known as career pathways —designed to help students discover and get started on the IT career that’s right for them. Career pathways, which also are used for careers in manufacturing, align education and training programs in K-12 and higher ed to meet the demands of the job market.
The DPI defined five IT career pathways: data technology, cybersecurity, software developer/programmer, network systems/infrastructure and business analyst/project management. In the New North, the alliance is working with the DPI to create a regional career pathway for IT careers.
The NEW IT Alliance reached out to members of the business community in July to learn more about the most in-demand fields, what pathways employees typically take to enter those careers and then later advance in them, what academic and technical skills employers are seeking, and local career exploration and awareness programs to help students learn more about IT careers.
If a school district wants to provide an IT career pathway, it must offer:
• A sequence of three courses aligned to the skills identified
• An opportunity for students to earn at least one of the industry-recognized credentials recommended by employers
• At least one dual college credit opportunity in a postsecondary IT program
• A work-based learning opportunity related to the IT pathway