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Kurt Wenger of Drop Frame Productions mentors Sauk Prairie School District student Lee Burris, who is enrolled in the high school's 18-21 transitional program, through a new Youth Apprenticeship Program the district is piloting. Burris gets paid for his work while learning about visual arts from Wenger.

Last week I was given the opportunity to address a group for Youth Apprenticeship Day at the Capitol. That's where I met Tom Martin.

You probably don't know Tom, but to hundreds of educators, students, parents and businesses, Tom is part of a team at CESA 3 in southwestern Wisconsin that is passionate about providing quality work-based learning opportunities for students.

One of the longest-standing and most successful work-based learning opportunities in our state is Youth Apprenticeship, a Department of Workforce Development program created in 1991 that has served more than 25,000 Wisconsin students since its inception.

Generally, high school is when students get their first taste of work, consider career paths and begin developing their base skills, including essential skills, like problem solving, effective professional communication, customer service, resilience and teamwork.

Coming from an economic development background, I've seen the positive impact the youth apprenticeship program has had on local manufacturers in my town of Sturgeon Bay. The combination of hands-on, on-the-job learning that occurs in concert with classroom learning is essential for the greatest development and retention of those learned skills.

Ongoing economic expansion has presented our state and our nation's economy with a new set of concerns, chief among them finding a qualified worker for every open job. Youth Apprenticeship provides an opportunity for companies to recruit, train and ideally retain workers eager to learn.

With Wisconsin's workforce aging rapidly, all stakeholders are considering the importance of Wisconsin's youth in our overall workforce development programming.

Gov. Tony Evers took the time to listen to Wisconsinites about what's important to them, and that's why the 2019-21 budget continues to fund and support Youth Apprenticeship.

This year, the program has a record 5,000 student participants and more than 3,500 supporting businesses. Due to its effectiveness in training and retaining quality workers, as well as engaging families, businesses and the educational community, the program is rightly seen as a community builder.

As more and more students see the opportunity that Youth Apprenticeship provides, we are hoping to bring even more businesses into the program to hire highly motivated youth looking to develop their skills.

This year we've seen a noticeable bump in participation in agriculture, finance, health science and manufacturing. We've also seen continued growth in newer Youth Apprenticeship areas like marketing, architecture and construction and STEM, and the addition of a business management and administration field. DWD is proud of and grateful for the diversity of programs offered.

And Youth Apprenticeship is effective. To date, 83 percent of students who completed the program have been offered continued employment by the employer that provided their on-the-job training. That's a testament to the hard work of the students and businesses recognizing the value of their youth workers.

As someone tasked with developing Wisconsin's workforce, from youth to retirement and everywhere in between, I'm grateful for the passion that Tom and organizations like CESA 3 bring to work-based learning. Their enthusiasm for the work and its importance inspires our efforts at DWD to continue enhancing programming that delivers results for Wisconsin's students, our businesses and our economy.

Caleb Frostman is secretary-designee of the state Department of Workforce Development and a former state senator.

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