Bradford Milliron works Friday at Lou-Rich in Albert Lea as part of the Albert Lea Youth Apprenticeship Program. Milliron is gaining hands-on experience in mechanical and assembly work. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune
Bradford Milliron works Friday at Lou-Rich in Albert Lea as part of the Albert Lea Youth Apprenticeship Program. Milliron is gaining hands-on experience in mechanical and assembly work. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

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Working to learn

Published 11:45am Monday, August 19, 2013

Albert Lea is 1 of 2 cities in state in apprentice program

The Minnesota Youth Apprenticeship program in Albert Lea is gaining recognition across the state for its work teaching technical skills to high school students.

The program began locally in 2012 and this school year is expected to include four employers: Lou-Rich, Ultimate Automotive, Edwards Manufacturing Co. and Interstate Molding.

Bradford Milliron looks over an order to fill at Lou-Rich on Friday. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune
Bradford Milliron looks over an order to fill at Lou-Rich on Friday. — Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

“Albert Lea has really stepped up to the plate on this and continues to add to an already outstanding array of services for any student that elects to participate in this program,” said Al Hauge, specialist with the Department of Education Youth Apprenticeship program.

Besides Albert Lea, the program is underway in Anoka.

Manufacturing jobs account for 13 percent of the state’s private sector jobs and almost 15 percent of the private sector’s output, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. However, 58 percent of manufacturing businesses interviewed in a 2011 survey indicated they had some degree of shortage in their workforce.

To solve this problem, Albert Lea High School officials, representatives from Lou-Rich and representatives from Workforce Development Inc., began talking about an apprenticeship program in 2010 and contacted state education officials to start one.

The Minnesota program, through the Minnesota Department of Education and DEED, is modeled after a Wisconsin course that incorporates classroom training, mentoring and hands-on experience.

Roxanne Ponce, human resource manager at Lou-Rich, said the program thus far has covered manufacturing, robotic welding and CNC machinery training.

“There is a lack of experience in those fields,” Ponce said. “It’s hard to find anyone with that experience.”

This year it will expand to include auto mechanics and other manufacturing skills.

Johanna Thomas, assistant principal at Albert Lea High School, said school officials looked for students interested in industrial technology to be a part of the course. Three students completed the program in the 2012-13 school year, and seven to nine hope to finish it this school year under the direction of Kim Meyer, the youth apprenticeship instructor, they said.

The students go through safety training and apply what they are learning in the classroom in the job field. Juniors complete 450 hours of paid work-based learning, and seniors complete 900 hours, Thomas said. They complete multiple semesters of related classroom instruction, in addition to their other academic classes.

Bradford Milliron, who is completing his apprenticeship at Lou-Rich this month, said he knows the experience will be positive for him.

“It’s been really fun,” Milliron said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and solving problems.”

He plans to pursue training in mechanical engineering.

Ponce said students are treated the same as the company’s regular employees and go through interviews and drug screenings before they are matched with a mentor. They also go through orientation and safety training just like other new employees.

After meeting certain criteria, the students can even receive raises in pay.

Ponce said she has heard nothing but positive feedback from the program. She said she thinks it is good for the students to learn different work styles and to gain an insight into the industry.

Likewise, they can build resumes and gain references for the future, said Valerie Kvale with Workforce Development Inc., who has been the coordinator with local businesses.

Dan Mattick, owner of Ultimate Automotive, was glad to add his business to the program.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the kids,” Mattick said. “When I look back I wish there was something like that when I was in school.”

Thomas said the program has been successful thus far because of all of the collaboration in the community.

Businesses interested in becoming part of the program can contact Kvale at vkvale@wfdi.ws.