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Experts: WI Youth Apprenticeship Could Serve as National Model

young apprentices in technical vocational training are taught by older trainers on a cnc lathes machine
industrieblick - stock.adobe.com
young apprentices in technical vocational training are taught by older trainers on a cnc lathes machine

Wisconsin has the largest and longest-running youth apprenticeship program in the country. And social policy researchers are out with new findings that detail its strengths in creating pathways for better economic outcomes.

This summer, the Urban Institute issued a policy brief about the history and reach of the state's apprenticeship program for high school-age students.

The authors say Wisconsin has adopted a well-structured, low-cost system with state support that allows for plenty of local control.

Robert Lerman is a fellow with the Institute's Center on Labor, Human Services and Population - and he helped compile the findings. He said the Badger State's approach really gets to the heart of blending academics with "on-the-job" training.

"They have part of the day or part of the week," said Lerman, "they're at their workplace. But the whole point is that the workplace is a learning center for them."

Lerman said that's especially important for high-school students worried about the cost of college.

The Institute says another highlight of Wisconsin's program is that it has statewide curricula and skill standards, meaning an apprentice's credentials can be portable.

Researchers say a weak spot is limitations for youth to move on to registered apprenticeship systems that offer extended training.

Lerman said even though rising college costs might inspire more teens to take up apprenticeships, it's important to remember that some people like to "learn by doing," no matter the circumstances.

He suggested that if more states beef up their programs as Wisconsin has, the nation could benefit in a variety of ways.

"We can improve equity and improve opportunity," said Lerman, "and efficiency, and productivity for the country."

He added that his research has found that in general U.S. apprenticeship programs lag behind many other countries in terms of their scope.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin's program for youth has seen strong demand - including this past school year, with more than 5,700 employers providing apprenticeships to nearly 8,300 students.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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