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High School Apprenticeship Program Prepares O’Fallon Students for Successful Careers

In a world where high school students typically spend their days preparing for college, a groundbreaking program in O’Fallon’s Fort Zumwalt School District is reshaping the path to success. The Zumwalt Apprenticeship program is an innovative program where students are unlocking the doors to dynamic careers in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, culinary arts and information technologies. This is not just another high school program; it’s an advancement in education, paving the way for students to transition into their chosen careers immediately upon graduation. This new paradigm in high school education is shaping the future for ambitious students who go beyond AP and dual-placement courses in a typical classroom setting.

Student Apprenticeship Program and Workforce Development
From Left: Dr. Pat Brown and Andy McHaffie

When a local O’Fallon manufacturer initiated a conversation about potential job opportunities for students, little did he know that this simple exchange with the local school district would evolve into a visionary initiative for student success. One that would benefit O’Fallon’s youth while building up the workforce of St. Charles County, which boasts a robust population of nearly 230,000 workers.

Fort Zumwalt’s Dr. Pat Brown, Executive Director of STEM, and Andy McHaffie, Apprenticeship Coordinator, joined forces with Dan Claypool, CEO of Merric Millwork and Seating, to create opportunities for Fort Zumwalt School District students to embark on careers in the trades leading to good paying jobs. With that motivation, their vision extended far beyond this initial collaboration. When the U.S. Department of Labor introduced the Youth Apprenticeship Initiative in 2016 Dr. Brown and McHaffie recognized this opportunity as the catalyst they needed to propel their program, driving student success in St. Charles County to new heights.

With Fort Zumwalt School District confirmed as a sponsor of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Youth Apprenticeship initiative, they rolled out a unique paid apprenticeship program to high school students across Fort Zumwalt School District in March 2019.   

Despite setbacks from the pandemic, the program launched with four registered apprentices in 2019 and has expanded to 35 who have registered this year alone. Additionally, 17 more high school students will be registered by the end of 2023. Using a commitment from a growing number of local business partners willing to provide real-world experience, the program enabled students to fulfill their school requirements and prepare for future employment opportunities. This year, Dr. Brown and McHaffie placed around a dozen students into the apprenticeship program across various industries. Additionally, more than 700 students across the school district have enrolled in the required coursework preparing for their chance to secure a paid apprenticeship.

“With this program, we have the ability to train students and provide them with direct access to work experience in an industry that excites them,” says Dr. Brown. “These high school students are the future of our workforce and in this unique setting they get a jumpstart on a successful career path.”

Before any student can embark on their apprenticeship journey, they must navigate a two-part process. To begin, students 16 and older are required to complete one of the many Career Technical Education (CTE) Apprenticeship Courses, which are conducted by approximately 16 qualified instructors within the Fort Zumwalt School District’s high school student program. These courses provide students with a choice of foundational programs directly aligned with specific industries, including advanced manufacturing, healthcare, culinary arts, and information technologies with employers ready to offer apprenticeships in each industry sector.

According to Dr. Brown, “Our apprenticeship program goes beyond manufacturing with hundreds of students interested in these other areas as well.”

Upon the successful completion of their chosen industry-specific coursework, students proceed to the last critical stage similar to a traditional job interview process. For high school students to qualify for these interviews, they must demonstrate a strong attendance record, maintain good academic grades, and secure two teacher recommendations. During this crucial phase, Dr. Brown and McHaffie play a pivotal role as intermediaries, facilitating communication between the prospective employer and the high school student, coordinating interviews, and working out the apprenticeship details. Their efforts produced the first student apprentice to receive their U.S. Department of Labor Certificate of Completion last year. This student transitioned from their apprenticeship at Merric Millwork and Seating, to full-time employment with the company. Additionally, three more students will receive this certificate of completion by the end of this year. By the summer of 2024, eight students are expected to successfully finish their training from the high school student program.

In this harmonious partnership, initiated with an O’Fallon-based business, and extending to other businesses and the school district, it’s a win-win for all involved. Students gain invaluable on-the-job training and certification during their high school years, and businesses actively contribute to shaping their future workforce. As these students graduate, they’re not just prepared to take their place in the workforce; they’re poised to make a tangible economic impact on O’Fallon and St. Charles County and become valued contributors to our community.