“You’re not competing for a job when you go for an apprenticeship, you’re competing for a career,” said David Polk, the director of the Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards, in the state Department of Workforce Development. An apprenticeship is the pathway that puts a worker on track for a skilled, well-paying livelihood, Polk told a group of Milwaukee Public Schools students who are active in the Black and Latino Male Achievement mentorship program.
The 87 students, representing 12 MPS schools, learned about apprenticeship programs and toured labs at Milwaukee Area Technical College specializing in work involving tool and die, electricity, pharmacy technology, and barbering and cosmetology.
The event took place on Thursday, November 16, during National Apprenticeship Week.
Students can take part in youth apprenticeships while in high school. After graduation, they’re eligible for registered apprenticeships. Attending MATC is one of the ways students can gain the education and training needed for an apprenticeship.
Polk, of the state apprenticeship bureau, also is the third generation of his family to work as a plumber, a trade he learned through an apprenticeship. He previously served as director of apprenticeship and trade at MATC before taking on the state role.
Although the assumption might be that a student is going to college, “there are many more opportunities out there,” said Joshua Johnson, director of the National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Innovation and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship, by the Jobs for the Future organization.
“The path to success is not the same for everybody,” Johnson said. “Just make sure you’re making the right decisions. And if you’re not sure, ask someone.”
David Stuart, director of apprenticeships at MATC, told the BLMA students that they couldn’t have been born at a better time. “We have not had a job market like this since the ‘70s,” he said.
“The demand is there. There are lots and lots of openings,” he said, but noted that the pursuit of apprenticeships is competitive, and students should do all they can “to be the most attractive applicant for the job.”
That might include taking classes in the area they’d like an apprenticeship in. Students also can reach out to Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership/Building Industry Group & Skilled Trades Employment Program (WRTP/BIGSTEP) for resources.
Wisconsin has a notable apprenticeship history. The state’s Registered Apprenticeship Program, begun 112 years ago, is the oldest in the nation.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers recently announced that the program now enrolls a record 16,384 apprentices, surpassing the record set just last year.
The program combines formal on-the-job training with classroom instruction, which lets apprentices in the program “earn as they learn.” Classroom instruction typically is through the Wisconsin Technical College System.
Recognizing the importance of both kinds of training, Wisconsin is the only state that requires employers to pay apprentices for time on the job and in the classroom.
Wisconsin has more than 200 apprenticeship occupations with more than 2,600 employers. Beyond traditional apprenticeships in the construction trades, apprenticeships now are offered in fields such as health care, early childhood education, and information technology.
Those who have funds in the Wisconsin 529 College Savings Plan, specifically Edvest 529 or Tomorrow’s Scholar, can use the money to pay for qualifying expenses of apprenticeship programs. That can include paying for tools and other equipment, as long as the programs are registered with the U.S. Labor Department and state apprenticeship agencies.