As Minnesota maneuvers through very real workforce challenges, Big Lake High School is stepping in to help close the skills gap through its work-based learning program.

The program called REAL (Relevant Experience Apprenticeship Learning) connects students with early career exploration through registered apprenticeships. Students learn practical and theoretical aspects of highly-skilled occupations and are exposed to new ideas, career paths, and experiences.

Source: Big Lake High School; the REAL Program Team

Under the leadership of Principal Bob Dockendorf, Big Lake High School has been recognized as a national leader in work-based learning. In a recent press release, the high school celebrated the numerous 2018 awards the REAL program received for its adoption of youth apprenticeships. The program is made possible through the school’s partnership with Project Lead The Way (PLTW)—a nonprofit organization that helps students and teachers across the country develop skills in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.

“Students need opportunities where they can experience professional environments that drive their enthusiasm, excitement and learning,” says Principal Bob Dockendorf. “The apprenticeship model provides exposure to industries we might not otherwise recognize in our surrounding communities.”

Because work-based learning is a collaborative effort between students, educators and local businesses, students connect hands-on learning to real-world applications through REAL’s registered apprenticeships. Students learn and develop skills employee-seekers demand while getting exposure to an attainable career that matches their passions and interests. They are also celebrated for taking this next step toward pursuing their future career goals through a youth apprentice “signing day.”

Students who participate in this program will sign with the organization they are mentoring with. Signing opportunities bring business, students, staff, parents, and the community together to give the newly-signed apprentice the same amount of enthusiasm that athletes enjoy when signing with a college or professional team. “By participating in signings, we see instant pride for what is taking place and what is about to take place for students and parents in the future,” says Dockendorf.

Work-based learning programs provide young adults with the knowledge and confidence to pursue a chosen career path they may have previously misunderstood or known nothing about. Helping students match their academic and technical skills in a real-world setting is a step toward closing the skills gap and preparing more students for a successful future.

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