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Commentary by RAMAC's Matt Montemurro -- Youth apprentices: An option for today’s labor gaps
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Commentary by RAMAC's Matt Montemurro -- Youth apprentices: An option for today’s labor gaps

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If the pandemic has proven anything to us, it is that our businesses are only as good as the people who work for them. At the end of the day, every successful business depends on the high performance of their people. In the last 20 years, the business community survived by hiring, training, promoting and keeping good people. Sure, there were times when it seemed difficult to find just the right person, or to find the best reliable person, but eventually you found them, or learned to do without. Then, without notice, COVID-19 turned the world in general, and the business world in particular, upside down. There’s no need to itemize all the ways businesses had to create a new way to get things done. Remote working, re-arranging factory floors for safe distancing, PPEs – it seemed endless and sometimes, hopeless. Figuring out how to deal with the aftermath may be the most challenging—being able to find people to fill the openings resulting from the pandemic.

As we find ourselves between rounds, so to speak, of COVID and its variants, we face a worker shortage that is almost as threatening to the economic health of our community as the virus itself. Government assistance, remote working, a multitude of working options, job options and continued COVID/DELTA interference has created a perfect storm which make filling positions more challenging than had ever been imaginable. But there is a way to provide workers for our businesses, keep kids in town, and support education.

RAMAC’s Youth Apprenticeship Program (YA) in conjunction with the Racine Unified School District has been quietly and consistently pairing interested high school students with area businesses for 26 years. The intent of the program is to provide real work opportunities and experience to give our high school graduates a leg up for success when applying for future jobs and/or higher education. This year, during a pandemic and with remote learning, 125 students still took advantage of the program at over 99 companies. 60 of those students were returning for the 2nd year of apprenticeship. Over the many years, over 700 kids have been involved with employers for the one or two year apprenticeships. According to Jeff Bergman, the Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator, “Many of the Youth Apprenticeship kids will leave, for school or other jobs, and end up returning to their apprenticeship businesses for part-time work, work during school breaks or full time employment. The YA program represents a large pool of talent, students who want to work, want the experience in areas they are interested in.” This is good news and a represents a great opportunity for businesses to on-board and train potential employees.

Students aren’t the only beneficiaries of the YA Program. Businesses find the investment in time and effort well worth it; many employ one or more apprentices year after year.

Ascension, CNH, FischerUSA, InSinkErator, Knapp Manufacturing, Modine, and Racine Metal Fab, are all major supporters of the program.

As we face a more persistent and widening gap between jobs to fill and workers to fill them, it makes sense to lean into programs that prepare future employees as early as possible. The State of Wisconsin requires at least 2 credits a year in a course that is related to the apprenticeship so this isn’t a get out of school kind of situation. Students come to the workplace with basic knowledge and there are job skills and expectations set for them. Youth Apprenticeship is an important contributor to the talent pipeline in our community. Encourage your kids and your company to participate. With over 11 career areas and 26 pathways to certification, there is something for everyone.

Matt Montemurro

President, CEO

Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce

Matt Montemurro is the president and CEO of Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce.

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