“See those wires there? We’re trying to get rid of them. We want to make the whole thing smaller, so you can hold it in your hand instead of display it on the tabletop.”
If this statement was overheard outside the office of a mechanical engineer, you wouldn’t think twice. After all, it’s their job to develop, build and test the mechanics of tools, engines and machines, adapting and modifying as needed. In fact, this statement was made by 18-year-old Seth Kooiker, a senior at North High School in Eau Claire, WI and one of two youth apprentices at Realityworks, Inc.
Run by the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program is part of a statewide School-to-Work initiative. It gives high school students the opportunity to spend 1-2 years getting hands-on learning experience in an occupational area. Seth and Gabe LeGore, also a North High School senior, have been working at Realityworks since June 2016.
On Friday, January 5, Seth and Gabe had the opportunity to present some of their recent projects to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who made a brief stop at the high school to see examples of premier youth apprentice programs in the area. As they explained to Governor Walker, the two had been tasked with modifying Realityworks’ Electrical Wiring Kit, a portable, battery-operated kit that allows students to practice basic electrical wiring skills. Seth and Gabe’s efforts thus far have included rewiring, prototyping and simple machine operation.
“We’ve had dozens of students come to Realityworks through Wisconsin’s Youth Apprenticeship program, and we’ve always gotten a lot of value from it,” said Realityworks Engineering Manager Jeremiah Bauer, who mentors the company’s apprentices. “These students spend the first few months getting up to speed, and by their second year, you can send them a project and they can take it and run. Seth and Gabe are a great example of that. You can trust them to contribute, and they’re getting a jumpstart on the working world.”
The Electrical Wiring Kit is one of many projects that Seth and Gabe have been tasked with modifying, improving or creating since their 2-year apprenticeships began in June 2016. Other projects include developing an aquaponics kit, a blood pressure simulator and several other electronic and software prototypes. They’ve used imaging programs, learned machining programs and mathematical statistic programs.
“The level of knowledge gained by our youth apprentices is easy to see and forthcoming. The level of benefit to the company is unforeseen,” said Realityworks Mechanical Engineer Mike Zaborowski, who works closely with Gabe and Seth. “When you realize that you have helped guide a young mind to a future role, its only then you can clearly see the future of industry and business. The youth apprentice program makes the future very bright.”