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D214 apprentices gain on-the-job experience, earn college credit

Any solid foundation offers the opportunity for growth and expansion.

Now several months into its second year, High School District 214’s apprenticeship program is building on the success of its inaugural year. Building on that success by branching out to serve more students in more fields. Adding, for the first time, community partners serving as apprenticeship hosts and mentors. 

District 214 offers many work-based learning experiences designed to prepare students for success after graduation. None is more rigorous or directly relevant to students’ future work than the apprenticeship program.

Four seniors from the Class of 2020 completed their apprenticeships in spite of pandemic-related challenges. Now a second cohort of seniors - seven this time - are engaged in apprenticeships. Three are working in cybersecurity, two in automotive, one as a nursing assistant and one in construction and trades.

District 214 Partnership Manager Kathy Wicks explains the mutual benefit of adding community hosts after an initial year in which District 214 served as host for apprentices working in HVAC and cybersecurity. 

“We are trying to help our hosts with their talent pipeline,” Wicks said. “Health care providers, for example, are always looking for talent. It’s a natural fit; we have students looking for training, and the apprenticeship hosts get a chance to train prospective employees.”

This year, Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Center in Wheeling, R & R Towing and Auto Repair Services in Wheeling, Symphony of Buffalo Grove and Arlington Heights Ford all offered to serve as hosts. While the pandemic compelled some partners to delay their involvement, Wicks is no less grateful for their willingness to work with District 214.

“This virus threw everyone for a loop and it was important for us as a district to understand and meet our partners where they are,” she said.

Apprenticeships differ from internships or other work-based learning experiences in that students devote more hours to apprenticeships. And - significantly - they get paid. The program is rigorous and designed for students who have made firm decisions about a career choice by midway through their junior year.

Once apprentices are selected, they engage in about 15 hours per week of on-the-job training during the school year, in addition to college coursework and mentoring.

Prospect High School senior Bethany Cook, working in a cybersecurity apprenticeship, said of the opportunity: “This apprenticeship has already helped me advance my education because I’m enrolled in college classes for cybersecurity/networking. I thought this program would be specific to security, but it is exposing me to options in other parts of the field that will help me make more informed career choices in the future.” 

 She also spoke of the program’s value in professional networking: “I have been taught from a very young age that you can always learn something from everyone, and I take that very seriously. Just being able to make connections with people that are already in the field and learn how they got to where they are will always interest me.”

Elk Grove High School senior Brendan Shorey, working in construction and trades, said, “The apprenticeship is helping me learn how to correctly use heavy tools and read measurements. It’s taught me a lot of ways to be safe and work in the construction environment.”

Dave Berry