For Edin Hodzic, Jovany Melchor and Bob Voss, summer employment marks an important step to their future, thanks to High School District 214’s new Youth Apprenticeship program.
The program, which was honored this month with a national District of Distinction award by District Administration magazine “for leading the way with new ideas that work,” was developed to provide concrete job skills and training to students who know what careers they want to pursue by their junior year of high school.
District 214 is one of the first high school districts in the country to set up its own apprenticeships for students with local employers rather than bringing in external organizations to manage the program, according to Jobs for the Future, a leading workforce research organization.
“Youth apprenticeships bring relevancy and immediacy to the high school experience,” said Dr. Lazaro Lopez, associate superintendent for teaching and learning in District 214. “Students explore career opportunities while gaining valuable work experience, earning wages and valuable credentials without taking on student debt.”
This year, Lopez will serve on a state task force that is charged with expanding and improving apprenticeships as a workforce development tool.
In District 214, apprentices are selected for the program in their junior year of high school. They get 20 to 30 hours a month of paid job training during the school year in addition to college coursework and mentoring. During the summer, they work up to 28 hours a week to expand their skills. At the end of the program, students receive either a federally registered apprenticeship certification or a youth apprenticeship certification in addition to up to a year of college credits.
During the pilot year of its Youth Apprenticeship program, the district opted to use its own facilities for job placements in cybersecurity, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and automotive services so it could streamline the process. Next year, the district plans to increase the program by placing apprentices with local employers.
For Hodzic of Elk Grove High School, Melchor of Hersey High School and Voss of Rolling Meadows High School, working on the federally registered cybersecurity apprenticeship is giving them valuable experience in a variety of areas, such as programs, networking, servers, routers and, of course, security.
“This is a pilot program, and from our perspective, I think it’s great,” Melchor said. “The program is called cybersecurity, but it’s a mix of many things because they asked us what we were interested in. They’re moving us around to what we like to do, but obviously we still have criteria that we have to meet for the [federal] cybersecurity technician guidelines.”
The students, who will be seniors this fall, started their apprenticeships last November after applying for the program. During the school year, they balance high school coursework with apprenticeship-related coursework at Moraine Valley Community College while working for the district’s IT department at the Forest View Educational Center in Arlington Heights, where they put their lessons to practical use.
“What we do in our classes, we can incorporate here,” Voss said. “Right now we’re doing Security Awareness and Intro to IT Professions. So one day, [the supervisor] said there was a [security] alert, and we gathered all the information and we gave our best conclusion.”
All three plan to go to college after high school graduation and pursue careers in cybersecurity or other IT-related fields. They believe the apprenticeship program is giving them a big step up in achieving their goals.
“I love it,” Hodzic said of the experience. “It gives us hands-on experience. We can really see what these industry professionals are doing and how they are using these programs to secure these networks and systems. I really value the overall experience we gain here.”