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Working to put students to work

Farmington students who decide their route after high school does not include pursuing a college degree have new access to a program that looks to elevate vocational certification through pre-apprenticeships to the same level of priority as college prep.

The pre-apprenticeship program is a partnership with Mineral Area College and is in its early stages. High School Principal Dr. Nathan Hostettler said the overall goal of the program is to efficiently prepare students to directly enter the workforce after graduation.

“We’ve done some work in terms of getting teachers out into the community to talk to businesses,” Hostettler said. “It turns out, teachers have a really good idea of how to get their students into four-year universities, but a lot less of an idea of how to get them into trade schools or directly into employment because it’s not a route any of us took.”

He said it became apparent that there were seemingly two schools within the student population: one made up of students who had their sights set on college and one that planned to pursue a career without a degree. Hostettler said one of those groups, unfortunately, has historically received more attention at the high school level than the other.

Emily Bach, a teacher at the high school, headed up the search for options to more effectively educate the group of students who would not be attended college.

“We started to visit area businesses and just ask, ‘What do you need? What are you looking for? What does the ideal employee look like, coming out of high school?’” Hostettler said.

While the high school was searching for an answer, Mineral Area College received some funds from the state that would benefit just such a cause, according to Workforce Development Director Bev Hickam.

“Missouri received a grant called Apprenticeship U.S.A., and it was administered through the Department of Workforce Development,” Hickam said. “Some of that money was set aside for community colleges to increase awareness about apprenticeship programs and to develop some.”

After receiving a grant from the larger state funds in January 2017, MAC partnered with two businesses and established three apprenticeship programs. Since that time, the college has applied for a second grant, which would go toward strengthening its apprenticeship programs and establishing a pre-apprenticeship program with Farmington High School.

“We started meeting back in October and started to develop the pre-apprenticeship program, which really prepares a person to have some basic skills so they will be successful in an apprenticeship program,” Hickam said. “It also allows them to decide if it’s the right career choice for them.”

Hostettler said the program means more varied options for students depending on their goals after graduation.

“In terms of what this looks like at FHS—the discussion that started with those local businesses has led to a substantial change in the way we address math curriculum, in that we’ve made it more technically-driven and built more around project-based learning, which we’ll begin to roll out next year,” he said. “We’re actually offering what we call ‘Technical Math,’ and it’s built entirely around MAC’s tech math curriculum.

“Our English at the junior level is going to be much more technically-driven as well. Now, we can’t walk away from state standards, but we can be more intentional about addressing students’ wants and needs.”

In terms of how this will affect the day-to-day of a student who pursues a pre-apprenticeship, Hostettler said the change is significant.

“The way this would work from a really pragmatic perspective is that a kid would go through the freshman and sophomore year, which is pretty straight forward and really close to what we do now because it’s driven by state standards. Then, as they move into their junior year, they normally have the option of going to Unitec or taking dual-credit. We start to see kids’ interests diversify.

“So with a pre-apprenticeship in the junior year, they would go to MAC for half a day, where they will receive instruction for technical math, blueprint reading and begin to get their hands dirty with some welding.

“Then they would come back here for some of their technical core instruction. After a year and a half, they would have the opportunity to do an internship, which is an unpaid position with some of the local partners, including Lee Mechanical, Piramal Glass and Holcim Cement.”

After completing an internship and proving they hold employable qualities, students could then step directly into a paid apprenticeship and eventually into long-term employment. Completing the pre-apprenticeship would mean students would walk away with certifications in OSHA-30, WorkKeys, and stackable credentials depending on their choice of industrial maintenance or welding, not to mention up to 200 hours of in-industry experience.

Hickam said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) seems very interested in the ideas of pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships as valuable ways to diversify the education of Missouri’s students.

“This is a pilot program for us with Farmington and we’re excited about it,” she said. “Once the number of apprenticeship programs in the area grows, we can add more secondary educational institutions.”

While MAC is interested in growing the program to other high schools in the future, Hostettler said Farmington is interested in seeing more businesses get involved to provide more opportunities for the students in the program.

While the program and interest at the state level seems to indicate a philosophical shift in the educational world, in terms of putting as much emphasis on preparing students for employment directly after high school as college prep, Hostettler said there is still a lot of work to be done.

“It’s a step away from the idea that there’s either a four-year school or something less,” he said. “So now it’s all about choices—and each choice as advantages and disadvantages.

“I wish I could say that shift has happened across the culture, but I don’t think we’re there yet. But we have to start somewhere. The feedback we’ve gotten from kids over the years is that they feel kind of left behind, like they’re second-class citizens, and that’s not okay. The truth of the matter is that only about 40 percent of the jobs that will be available in 10 years will require a college degree.”

He said that the issue comes down to students and their parents being in a position to make a decision about what will most benefit the student’s future in the long-run, without the idea that college is inherently a better option than entering the workforce through an apprenticeship.

“We just have to put kids in the position where they are no longer fighting expectations,” Hostettler said. “We just need to have honest conversations taking place between them and their parents about their future needs to look like.”

A pre-apprenticeship partnership between Mineral Area College and Farmington High School seeks to prepare students for employment at area industry leaders, like Piramal Glass in Park Hills.

A pre-apprenticeship partnership between Mineral Area College and Farmington High School seeks to prepare students for employment at area industry leaders, like Piramal Glass in Park Hills.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at

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