By Renée Jean, Business & Tourism Reporter
Wyoming has an array of apprenticeship programs suitable for high school-age students to help them figure out what direction they want to go with their lives before committing to potentially expensive post-secondary training.
Many schools are either unaware of these programs, however, or haven’t created processes to fit them into their programs, Associated General Contractors of Wyoming Director Katie Legerski told Wyoming lawmakers Wednesday.
Senate File 78 does not create any new programs. Instead, it seeks to widely disseminate information about what’s already out there for students and schools across Wyoming. It aims to make these opportunities accessible to all students, rather than just those who happen to attend a more proactive school district.
“We need a conduit and knowledge at every school,” said Sen. Chris Rothfus, D-Laramie, a member of the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee.
Schools To Be More Proactive
The bill also directs schools to establish guidelines for implementing existing training programs and to take steps to provide school credit for programs when appropriate.
Legerski told the committee she knows of a Skills USA past president attending community college who has changed majors five times and is still not sure what to do in life.
Career exploration while in high school could have helped that student settle on a direction before getting to college and making costly mistakes in terms of both time and money.
“Or what about a nursing student who enters a nursing program, only to find out that he or she cannot stand the sight of blood?” Legerski asked. “What happens if she would have done some career exploration while she was in high school? That individual could have saved a lot of heartache and some money before entering into that post-secondary program after high school.”
Not All On Same Page
Legerski has tried to set up existing programs with schools, only to be told they can’t do them because there’s no procedure in place. Sometimes, they also just don’t understand the processes Wyoming has in place already to limit their liability.
“When this program was passed, we had numerous juniors and seniors in a northeast community who had opportunities to do a work-study program with local contractors over the summer or for a couple of hours during the school day,” Legerski said.
But the school district, while supportive, turned the opportunities down because they were not familiar with the program and didn’t have a process in place.
“That’s unfair to that student who is pursuing different career paths,” Legerski said.
It Worked For Marco
Contrast that with the case of her nephew Marco, a senior in high school, who happened to attend a high school that had a process for apprenticeships in place.
Thanks to that, Marco could take an elective course exploring career opportunities and skills. He learned to write a resume, cover letter and even a resignation letter, as well as develop a personal budget and other skills to become successful.
After taking a number of assessments, a teacher suggested he should explore a career as an electrician.
A business in town took him on as an apprentice. Through that experience, Marco found a career that excited him so much, that he changed his mind about dropping out of school.
Now he’s set on attending college to major in business. He wants to set up his own shop as an electrician.
“Marco had no idea what career path he wanted to take until he took this elective class,” Legerski said. “(He) would have been completely lost after graduation had he not had the opportunity to explore different career paths.”
Some Students Getting Shortchanged
Tamsin Johnson, a lobbyist for AFL-CIO, meanwhile testified that as a former high school teacher, she knows of many students who were shortchanged simply because they went to a school where these existing opportunities were not known to students.
Some are now plumbers and electricians she has called upon to do jobs she needed done.
“I think it’s great that we’re going to let kids know more about this and help schools set up a structure for it,” she said of putting more resources behind utilizing apprenticeship opportunities.
Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, while supportive of the bill, recommended stronger language to clarify how lawmakers will know that the steps being directed by the Legislature are in fact being taken.
Her amendment was unanimously approved, after which lawmakers unanimously advanced Senate Bill 78 out of committee.