The halls of Sun Prairie High School are home to engineers, accountants, biotechnology researchers, nurses, automotive technicians, pharmacy technicians, plumbers, welders, and construction workers. The people in these professions are students too, part of the high school’s Youth Apprenticeship Program.
The program gives juniors and seniors real-world work experience in a career field of their choice, supplementing paid work experience with related classes in addition to their high school coursework.
Hiba Hashim, a senior, works as a pharmacy technician at UW Health at the American Center through the program. Hashim said she had always been interested in the medical field, and her interest in pharmacy sparked after she took a biotechnology class last year. When the class ended, she met with SPHS school to career counselor Nancy Everson, who worked throughout the summer to find Hashim a position in which she could experience working in a hospital setting.
Working constantly with patients and insurance companies at the pharmacy, Hashim said she has developed better communication skills that will help in her goal of becoming a doctor. Hashim has applied to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to major in nursing, and may continue working at the American Center Pharmacy once she moves on to college.
“When I first started out, I always thought that the pharmacy was a really isolated place because you’re always in the back with medicines,” Hashim said. “But, now that I actually work in a hospital, I realize just how much pharmacists have an impact on patient care.”
Everson said the statewide Youth Apprenticeship Program began years ago with just one career: printing at Royle Printing and Webcrafters, when there was a shortage of workers trained in the field.
Those two companies helped launch the apprenticeship program for Sun Prairie students, Everson said. In its first few years, about six students participated in the program. That number has exploded to 20-plus students during the last few years, Everson said.
This year, there are 23 students in the program, practicing in a variety of careers. The program allows kids to gain experience in a field to find out if they like it before paying for a college degree, and learn on-the-job skills, Everson said.
And the program benefits the employers, too. Everson said she receives positive feedback from employers who hope to keep students as future employees once they are trained.
“They love the kids,” Everson said. “They’re already asking, who are you going to send me next year?”
This year, students could also choose a career in the construction industry. This year, two SPHS students are working with Stevens Construction in Madison, Everson said, working on “some of the most amazing buildings in Madison.”
Before, age requirements for construction workers prevented high school students from working in the industry. Recently, Everson said the industry realized it faced a labor shortage and needed people trained for the trade.
“They realize that they need to get these kids into the field earlier than later, so the construction industry has totally revamped their position on youth apprenticeship and wanted to get involved,” Everson said.
The program is not for every student. They still go through interviews with the employer, and Everson checks in every quarter to make sure students are on track and setting goals.
“The kid’s got to have their act together because they’re managing their school work and then they’re managing their job,” Everson said. “It’s a big commitment.”
But the benefits can be huge, and Hashim said she would encourage her peers to try the apprenticeship program.
“I know a lot of them are even more dedicated in the medical field and other fields than I am, and this is the best way for them to get into the field immediately,” Hashim said.