Not only are apprenticeships a way for area teens to become accustomed to the working world, they also present an opportunity for more established workers to learn new trends.
“I have teenagers of my own, so I already know the music,” Kristy Lemmer said as she laughed.
The dietary manager at North Central Health Care (NCHC) in Wausau, Lemmer was responding to life overseeing about two dozen teens who work at NCHC via youth apprenticeships through the Wausau School District and Northcentral Technical College.
The arrangement brings in the help that local firms need while providing young learners real-world experience in situations they may be considering as a career.
“We have great partnerships with a lot of area high schools,” said Bo Johnson, Human Resources Generalist at NCHC, a long term mental and behavioral healthcare facility nestled into the heart of Wausau.
The Department of Workforce Development has approved youth apprenticeships in 11 programs: architecture/construction, finance, information technology, ag/food/natural resources, transportation/distribution/logistics, health science, manufacturing, marketing, art/AV tech/communications, hospitality, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
Johnson, who’s been with NCHC for about 12 years, works with Wausau West and East, D.C. Everest, Merrill, Marathon, and Mosinee. He’s seen where such apprenticeships can take students.
Most of them need this starting point. It gives them such valuable work experience when you get to go out on the floor.
— Kristy Lemmer,
North Central Health Care, Wausau
“We have apprentices in our dietary aid, CNA (certified nursing assistant) and hospitality assistant areas,” he said. “It’s a real stepping stone to becoming a CNA.”
While most of the approximately 10 students Johnson sees in NCHC’s CNA courses are adults, he does get some teens.
“The classes are 8 hours a day for about two and a half weeks,” he said. “We do get some high school students, and obviously they can’t attend during school, so we’ll have them go through in the summer.”
Building in flexibility has been a key to attracting and retaining apprentices at this age.
“No. 1, be flexible,” Johnson said of advice he might offer to other entities considering apprenticeships. “Let them work when they can, and do that with your employees in general. No. 2, we pay for their (CNA) class.”
In pre-COVID times, Johnson would visit schools and talk to groups about the opportunities NCHC has to offer.
“We do job fairs at the schools, too, because putting a face to a name helps,” Johnson said. “We really just try to build awareness that we’re even here.”
It’s a necessary step, according to Hoth.
“A lot of students didn’t know youth apprenticeships were even a thing,” she said.
If awareness is step 1, then step 2 is to build a program that will work for everyone.
“We try to tailor our openings to the students when they need flexibility for sports or activities,” Johnson said. “That helps them want to stay.”
Lemmer has been working with apprentices and interns, of a variety of ages, for about 15 years. She oversees 40 people, about 20-24 of whom are youth apprentices.
“Most of them need this starting point,” she said. “It gives them such valuable work experience when you get to go out on the floor.”
The DWD cites a number of benefits to employers:
•Increasing visibility of your business/ industry
•Access to young workers with an interest in the profession
•Pre-screened youths who get support during their apprenticeship
Lemmer has learned that while trends come and go, some aspects of working with kids don’t change much at all.
“One challenge, for a lot of them — this is their first job,” Lemmer said. “You set the expectations early on. ‘We’re counting on you to be here, but the residents are also counting on you to be here.’ ”
Students can develop some key skill sets on the job, immersed in situations that can’t really be replicated in a classroom.
“This really helps with communication skills,” said Ashley Hoth, a soft-spoken senior with Wausau Area Virtual Education (WAVE) who attended Wausau West in-person previously. Hoth has been a dietary aid with NCHC for a year, having to master the wide variety of diet types that cater to each resident’s unique needs, including considerations for diabetics, high blood pressure, pureed, and others. “I was very shy, timid, nervous. When I had to talk to a supervisor, I’d be scared. I’m very confident now.”