Vocational training for young people in Indianapolis takes on a very European look.
Two burgeoning apprenticeship programs, one German-inspired and the other Swiss-inspired, have started in the city and its suburbs over the past four years. Both pay high school and community college students to work and train for medical, business, computer, and manufacturing jobs while still in school. The programs even cover all or part of their tuition.
The programs differ a bit in their approach and benefits for students, but both are based on a common European mindset: students shouldn’t be left alone to find – and pay for – vocational training. Companies need to take some responsibility in training and supporting young people, both as a social responsibility and to develop a pool of talent to hire.
Others read:Canceled Circle City Classic football game changes the course of black history in Indianapolis
“I think Europe has a great model,” said Robert Head, the apprentice manager of the Indianapolis branch of Endress + Hauser, a Swiss-German company that makes manufacturing equipment. At the request of the home office in Europe, his factory has recruited 17 apprentices since 2018 for advanced manufacturing technician training.
He said apprenticeships are a great way to find young employees, teach a new generation and help them find careers without massive college debt. Apprenticeships also help companies fill the voids left by trained and departing employees.
“I believe they will hang on,” he said.
What is a Modern Apprentice?
Modern Apprentice, the city’s largest program, was launched as a pilot project last fall after teams of businesses and community leaders traveled to Switzerland in 2019 to study the apprenticeship system there and internship. The three-year program places high school students in offices of nonprofits and corporations such as electric utility AES Indiana and pharmaceutical company Roche during their junior and senior years and for a year after. Companies pay apprentices for their work and for part of their first year of college.
The first batch of 30 high school juniors started their three-year program at 16 companies last fall, and another 41 have started their program at 28 companies so far this fall. The goal is 100 next year.
“I was pretty skeptical going to Switzerland,” said Stephanie Bothun, vice president of Ascend Indiana, a nonprofit workforce development organization and co-founder of the apprenticeship program.
“After going to Switzerland and talking to students, and seeing the connectivity between government, employers, associations, the school system…I came back like, we have to be part of that. And we have to figure out how to make it a central part of our solution.
Indiana Abortion Law:Judge blocks Indiana’s new abortion law — for now
Jamie Wright, hiring manager for Roche’s US operations, said the company won’t use apprenticeships here as much as it does at its headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. There, a nearby apprentice training center works with 300 students a year on business and medical skills. In Indianapolis, Roche hired four apprentices last year to work in finance, marketing and human resources departments, but not yet in research or manufacturing.
“We thought this would be a great opportunity to be a responsible corporate citizen and help shape the future workforce,” Wright said. “And we thought it was a great opportunity to give them exposure to different career avenues very early in your career to help them decide what’s best for them.”
Find the right career path
Abigail Ortiz-Armado, 17, who started as a modern apprentice in AES’s business offices last fall, said she wanted to study business in college but was unsure whether she would wanted to do marketing or accounting. Testing out different parts of how AES works on a part-time basis, she said, will help her decide, and it’s far better than working at Wal-Mart or McDonalds like many of her friends.
And she hopes to avoid a problem that a cousin faces – having trouble finding a job even with a college degree because she has no experience.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, because I’m already gaining that experience,” she said. “I’ll probably have a head start in the game after college.”
‘That was always the plan:’Former Pacers player heading to AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Championship
Will Valentine, 17, a senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis, hopes to go to college and start a business one day. He jumped at the chance to apprentice and work part-time — 1 to 4 p.m. four days a week — for $12.50 an hour at Ascend, one of the program’s founders. He said he used Microsoft Office programs and learned to write in a professional format, as opposed to school or personal formats. He says he tells friends to try it.
“I just saw learning as an incredible opportunity to get, I guess, a boost or an advantage over a lot of other kids my age,” he said. “I just think it really sets me up for my goals.”
Contribute early to the workplace
Both Indianapolis programs are inspired by larger American apprenticeship programs that adapted European models to the United States. Indianapolis Modern Apprentice is supported by CareerWise, a nationwide program that began in Colorado in 2017 and is expanding across the United States, including New York.
CareerWise now adds nearly 400 new apprentices per year in four states, plus Washington, D.C.
Endress + Hauser is part of the Industrial Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT), a network of companies in eight states as well as a similar program in Michigan organized by the German-American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago.
Although European apprenticeships usually start in year 11 and students typically spend three or more years mixing work, training and school, all leading directly to full-time jobs, the accommodations here differ.
Indianapolis Colts news:5 Numbers Why NFL History Says Firing Frank Reich Won’t Help Colts This Season
Endress and ICATT pay apprentices’ full tuition at community colleges and also pay apprentices for 40-hour work weeks every three years, even when they attend college a few days a week. Apprentices are expected to stay and work for two years after their three-year program, so this is a direct pipeline to work for the students and the company. But it starts after high school and in community college, not in 11th grade.
“I think we’re doing very well for a reason: our studies are paid for,” said Zach Speas, 23, who just finished his apprenticeship in June and is still working in the company.
He also liked being able to use the skills he learned in the classroom right away on the company’s production floor.
“I see myself staying here,” Speas said. “I hope I retire from this place. I know it’s a long road, but with this company I can see it.
The modern apprentice starts in grade 11, like much of Europe, but does not guarantee a job and employers do not pay for all college education. Companies agree to pay salaries, then $1,000 each of junior and senior year for specialized training or certification testing. They also contribute $4,000 for the first year of college.
Straight out of Hawkins: ‘Stranger Things’ Byers House for Sale in Georgia
Proponents of both programs say the investment is worth it because apprentices begin to be real contributors to the workplace in their second and third year and reduce the need to search for new employees.
Tanya Sovinski, who leads community relations and the apprenticeship program in Indianapolis for AES, said recruiting and training employees early in a tough job market also helps.
“If we wait to meet talent at the end of their college career to recruit them to join our teams, we have already missed the mark on potential innovative talent,” she said. “It’s a way for us to try to develop a program so that we can be in front of these students as they think about their future.”
Targeting recruiting efforts at city schools can also help companies diversify their workforces, others said.
There are still challenges. Indianapolis Modern Apprentice is still a pilot program. It remains to be seen how many apprentices remain in the companies after the three years. Companies and students must be recruited. Many need help getting around.
“We can’t be Switzerland,” Bothun said, hoping to connect even a small percentage of students to work experiences. “But can we have additional ways to bring these two communities (businesses and schools) together and create positive change in momentum? Can we get to 5% or 10%?
“That would be heroic,” she said.
This story was reported by The74Million.org, a nonprofit education media outlet, with support from Columbia University’s Spencer Education Reporting Fellowship.