Big Lake High School’s work-based learning program sets students up for success

To help grow our state’s skilled workforce and fill talent development holes, Big Lake High School is connecting its students with early career exploration through registered apprenticeships.

The REAL (Relevant Experience Apprenticeship Learning) program helps students learn practical and theoretical aspects of highly-skilled occupations and exposes them to new career paths and experiences.

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.

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.

For high school student Kierra, Big Lake’s REAL program connected her with Big Lake Area Veterinary Hospital where she is learning more about veterinary science.

“My favorite thing to do is to help restrain the animals. I like the feeling of comforting them during what can be a high stress situation for the animal and us,” Kierra shared with Big Lake High School’s work-based learning coordinator Wade Olson.

“Kierra’s enthusiasm for the profession is shown whenever she is at work. She is always available to do what is asked and doesn’t hesitate even when the task is not pleasant. We are in need of young people to enter the profession and be ready to be an advocate for the animals we treat. Youth Apprenticeship allows students to see what the veterinary field is like, before making a decision,” continued Big Lake Area Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. McAlpin.

High school student Jonathan’s apprenticeship experience with GATR Truck Center solidified his interest in pursuing a career as a diesel technician.

“[After graduation] I plan to complete my training with the National Guard and attend a tech school to continue my education in diesel mechanics,” Jonathan said. “The people [at GATR] that have been teaching me have been great and are always willing to answer my questions; the work environment is so friendly.”

Jonathan’s work-based mentor appreciates the real life hands-on training he gets to experience while being involved in the business and part of the team on a daily basis. “With the knowledge and experience these students gain, they are better prepared for [the] industry once they graduate.”

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.