Career Spotlight


Spotlight on: Youth Apprenticeship

Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program is for high school students who want hands-on learning at a worksite, along with classroom instruction. By being released from school during part of the day, YA students are using that time to work in the field, earn school credit, make money and get exposed to real-world work experiences.

Requirements include that the student be in his or her junior or senior year of high school. Participants complete 450 hours of work-based learning and two semesters of related classroom instruction.

Schools try to match students with companies that have careers in their fields of interest. Most students are paid between minimum wage and $16 an hour, depending on the company and job. Students are allowed to leave school in the last two hours of the day to get a jump start on their work day.

They also learn resume writing, interviewing and other job skills they will use in their career while earning high school credit that can be used toward graduation. Many students who take advantage of this opportunity are hired on by employers post-graduation.

Ben and Peter at Kohler Co.


Ben Nichols, 19, works as a facilities maintenance tradesperson support at Kohler Co. in Kohler. He started at Kohler in the youth apprentice program while in high school. Ben knew he didn’t want to go to college, and the trades appealed to him because he had enjoyed working with his grandfather building houses and had a summer job at a heating and cooling contractor.

He took several technical education classes in high school and then, in his junior year, applied to the youth apprentice program through an area technical college. During the summer before his senior year, Ben worked eight hours a day in Kohler’s Facilities Maintenance department. When school started, he worked three hours a day at Kohler and spent the rest of the day in class at his high school.

At work, Ben was exposed to many different maintenance skills, including masonry, carpentry and painting. And before he graduated from high school, he already had a full-time job offer from Kohler. Now, Ben enjoys his work because it’s always different and he’s always learning from his co-workers.

“A lot of the guys I work with have been doing this work for so long, so if I’m stumped by something I can ask them. This has worked out well for me. I’m very happy,” he said.


Peter Gross, 18, spent his senior year at Oostburg High School helping create new materials from Kohler’s industrial waste. During his apprenticeship on Kohler’s Kitchen Product Engineering team, he worked alongside a cross-functional team of passionate associates in Kohler’s WasteLab creating ceramic tiles made from 100 percent waste materials, gaining unique hands-on experience that will prepare him for his future career.

After he finishes working at Kohler at the end of the summer, Peter will attend the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan in the fall and plans to pursue an electrical or mechanical engineering degree.

“When I started at Kohler, I thought I’d be sitting behind a computer all day, but it’s been far from that,” Peter said. “I started out in the lab pressing tiles and spraying glaze, and now I’m diving into firing tile, modifying glaze formulas and testing final products. It’s been great.

Youth Apprenticeships … in their own words

Willow at Precision Plus, Elkhorn

“Hey, my name’s Willow Rutzen from Elkhorn Area High School. I plan to go to college to become a mechanical engineer. Many people think that a shop is no place for a girl, but I’d like to tell you that is totally false!

“Not only do I spend most of my free time working on projects in the shop, but I also spend time working with my horses. I became interested in working for Precision Plus in Elkhorn when my technical education teacher told me about a Youth Apprenticeship opportunity.

“I jumped at the chance and landed myself the best job I have ever had. Not only do they treat me like I’m an adult, but they also help me learn the skills it takes to be successful in a manufacturing facility. I’m thankful that they took me on as a Youth Apprentice and that I get to work with the great team at Precision Plus.”

Jacob and Aaron at Total Mechanical, Pewaukee

Jacob Johnson and Aaron Mesching

Jacob Johnson and Aaron Mesching both signed on this year for an apprenticeship at Total Mechanical in Pewaukee. Arrowhead Union High School District honors the level of commitment required with a signing ceremony, similar to sports teams signing up players. At the event, the school, the business, and friends and family can witness and support the student who is signing up for the program.

Jacob: “I know that college is not for me and I also know that my greatest strength is working with my hands, so I feel like Total Mechanical is a good fit for me. I think it is important to be working as a team and to be able to work together to get something done, and in the interview I saw it was important to them, as well. I hope to learn about the workforce and what is required to work for a company like Total. I also want to learn about HVAC.”

Aaron: “I decided to apply for the apprenticeship with Total Mechanical because they were offering a plumbing position and I am interested in pursuing a plumbing career. Metals fabrication helped me, because in that class, we read plans and had to make parts to the specs of those plans. We also did a soldering project in metals fab, which will help because plumbers solder. Through this apprenticeship, I hope to learn how plumbing works and how to properly fix it.”

Gavin Etzel, GPS Education Partners class of 2016

Machine setup operator II at Lakeside Manufacturing Inc., West Milwaukee


“I started at Lakeside Manufacturing in 2014 after joining the program from West Allis Central High School. I did not enjoy my regular high school because the work was too easy for me. I have always enjoyed working with my hands as a hobby, so the GPS program seemed like a good opportunity.

“I worked for Lakeside as a machine operator for a year in my first rotation. After that, I went to Alto-Shaam, where I got to operate their laser and do some assembly. I rejoined Lakeside in spring of 2016 after I graduated high school. I have been promoted three times since fall 2016. I am currently pursuing a setup III opportunity, which is the most advanced machine setup operator.

“Joining an adult work environment at the age of 16 was not the easiest. It was also difficult fitting all of the work in to two hours of classroom time at various times, depending on the material. The schoolwork was not easier than regular high school.

“I work on first shift, so I work 4 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. We work more overtime in summer, so my Fridays are either off or I am working overtime. After work, I go home and relax.

“I am thinking of going back to school this fall to pursue an electrical engineering technician degree. It is a two-year program. I would like to continue to work into a setup III position in the meantime.

“My tips for job seekers: Show up for work. It’s all you have to do. I don’t know why some people don’t get to work. Be respectful of others who are taking the time to teach you.”

50 Most Wanted Positions

Here are the top jobs companies are hiring for in southeastern Wisconsin. Workforce gaps include skilled trades and STEM-based careers.

Today’s economy has great need for manufacturing workers who demonstrate an affinity for science, technology, engineering and math, or like to build, design and create.

  1. Human resources specialist
  2. Marketing specialist
  3. Administrative assistant
  4. Manufacturing machine operator
  5. Manufacturing manager
  6. Machinist
  7. Sales representative
  8. Office manager
  9. Quality controller
  10. Accountant
  11. Industrial engineer
  12. Technical sales representative
  13. Mechanical engineer
  14. Receptionist/information clerk
  15. Customer service representative
  16. Industrial machinery mechanic
  17. Purchaser
  18. Engineering tech
  19. Shipping and receiving clerk
  20. Mechanical engineering tech
  21. Cost estimator
  22. Industrial engineering tech
  23. Public relations specialist
  24. Welder
  25. Logistics specialist
  26. Computer network specialist
  27. Account manager
  28. Heavy equipment technician
  29. Heavy equipment operator
  30. IT project manager
  31. Bookkeeper
  32. Financial manager
  33. Electrical engineer
  34. Custodian
  35. Market research analyst
  36. Business systems analyst
  37. Electrical engineering tech
  38. Computer support person
  39. Cook
  40. Recruiter
  41. Construction laborer
  42. Construction manager
  43. Electrician
  44. Tool and die maker
  45. Research analyst (financial)
  46. Social worker
  47. Computer software engineer
  48. Corporate trainer
  49. Crane operator
  50. E-business consultant

Spotlight on: College internship

Ross Kluczinske, Engineering intern, Desert Aire LLC, Germantown


“I’m a mechanical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently, I’m being trained in using Solidworks computer-aided design software to modify any errors in engineering drawings that depict how the units should be assembled.

“Five to 10 years after graduation, I’d like to be in a career where I have the opportunity to work with renewable energy.

“This internship has given me an opportunity to learn some more general engineering skills, such as working as part of an engineering team and writing technical documents such as work instructions.

“I’ve gained experience in using different kinds of engineering software. I’ve become more proficient at using Microsoft Excel, and I’ve learned Solidworks and Microsoft Access. These skills will be helpful regardless of what specific field I choose to work in, whether that be HVAC, renewable energy or another field altogether.

“I would encourage any current high school students who are considering engineering to take as much math and science as you can in high school. Be sure to focus on not just knowing and memorizing what you are being taught, but understanding how and why it works.

“Writing skills can often be forgotten when discussing engineering, but they are very important as they are a primary means of communication. The ability to write clearly and concisely with good grammar is necessary when working as an engineer.”

Industry 4.0: Digital Disruption

In the coming years, Wisconsin companies will increase their layers of technology in all they do.

For example, while it used to be just mechanical technology knowledge was required by factory workers, the manufacturing workforce now needs a layer of data analytics knowledge.

According to Matt Kirchner of Lab Midwest, the state is poised to be at the epicenter of Industry 4.0 technology due to the high number of manufacturers in Wisconsin and the arrival of Foxconn Technology Group, the nation’s first LCD manufacturing facility.

Industry 4.0 moves beyond automation and robotics to include data exchanges and semi-autonomous industrial techniques to support a connected enterprise. Some of the jobs include quality engineer, robot programmer, cloud architect and interface developer, to name a few.

“The disruptive impact these technologies will have is important for our students to understand,” said Laura Schmidt of the School District of New Berlin. “Simply put, technological literacy matters across all industries.”

The M7 Regional Talent Partnership’s NextGen Learning team is focused on expanding programming that supports entrepreneurial thinking and technological literacy. Innovative thinking and critical problem solving are important for all career pathways.

Cool Schools

Schools from K-12 to the Wisconsin Technical College System to four-year universities are refocusing on STEM skills used in problem-based learning. This is helping students build career awareness for the future.

Accelerated certifications have been put together through business and post-secondary collaboration. Retraining and bootcamp programs are cropping up, while some corporations hire private firms to develop retraining programs specific to their companies.

A registered apprenticeship is being developed for IT to focus on filling the need in the workforce. The School of Applied Technologies at Waukesha County Technical College is now offering a supply chain certificate and an industry 4.0 certification.

With the advent of the Internet of Things, network security is an ever-evolving subject, as things have moved beyond just running antivirus programs on PCs. The two-year network security specialist program at Waukesha County Technical College has a higher degree of focus on elements related to locking down the network and addressing security threats.

WCTC also has a new mechatronics technician registered apprenticeship. Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of science that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer engineering, telecommunications engineering, systems engineering and control engineering.

These credits would also apply to an associate’s degree and are able to be transferred to many four-year colleges and universities.


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