Jim Golembeski, Envision Board Member

I will always correct people when I hear negative comments about the work ethic of our young people.

Granted, the Millennial generation (born 1980-1998) has struggled, but mainly because they did what their Baby Boomer parents told them to do: get a college education in any area. Just go to four-year college! Now we have too many psychology, sociology, and political science majors trying to find a place in the workforce.

The generation behind the Millennials, Gen Z (born 1999-2018), are showing a very different trend that aligns their education with economic opportunity. And our young people are taking advantage of that opportunity! It is called Youth Apprenticeship.

Youth Apprenticeship enters high school juniors and seniors into a sophisticated curriculum within a specific industry at an employer’s facility. The last ten years has shown remarkable growth in Youth Apprenticeship in Wisconsin. In the 2012-13 school year, there were 2,293 youth apprentices in Wisconsin. In the 2022-2023 school year, there are 7,442 students in Youth Apprenticeship programs. Many more employers are engaged as well. These students are often drawn directly into good paying jobs in vital state industries.

The most popular industries include Agriculture, Health Science, Manufacturing, Architecture/Construction, and Marketing. New curricula have recently been developed in Information Technology, Arts & Communication, and Hospitality/Tourism. More detailed information is available at Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development YA Student Participation Dashboard.

And Youth Apprenticeship is indicative of larger trends in education during the last fifteen years, trends that better align education systems with economic needs.  This effort begins with Academic and Career Planning (ACP) in middle and high school so that students can take advantage of training options in their areas of interest.  The lines between high school, technical college and college/university education are becoming increasingly blurred as students gain advanced credit and take more of a smorgasbord approach to education offerings. Employers also play an increasing role in subsidizing and even providing education to employees.

The result is a system that better aligns education and the regional economy, making more efficient use of the available workforce. The Northeast Wisconsin Innovation Academy, a charter school of the Green Bay Public School District and housed at NWTC, is a recent development connecting secondary education and career opportunities to at-risk students. The recent launch of five engineering majors at UWGB is another example of this alignment.

In the past, education has been provided in discreet packages: grade school, high school, college/university and technical college, all separate from employment and careers as well. In the 21st century, those lines are quickly being erased and education is no longer seen as an end in itself, but as contributing to the career and personal development of our young workers.