GOSHEN — Students in Elkhart County put a new twist to National Signing Day on Friday morning.

Rather than signing letters to join a college sports team, 11 students signed employment letters with area employers during CareerWise Elkhart County's first-ever "Student Signing Day"

The event was hosted by the Horizon Education Alliance and held in the community room at Ivy Tech Community College. 

CareerWise Elkhart County is a business-led apprenticeship program that provides students hands-on training that will prepare them for the workforce. 

Families, educators, community and business members alike clapped as each job offer was inked, and students donned hats bearing the name of their employer.

“Horizon Education Alliance (HEA) is pleased to support this collaboration between key businesses and all seven public school districts in Elkhart County,” said Brian Wiebe, HEA’s president.

Beginning this school year, apprentices will be trained in modern occupations within the defined career pathways of business operations, advanced manufacturing and information technology.

 Employers currently participating in the apprenticeship program include DJ Construction, MapleTronics Computers, Goshen Health, Adorn Hardwoods, Interior Components, Kem Krest, Robert Weed Corp, Goshen Stamping, MapleNet Wireless and Horizon Education Alliance. Additional businesses in Elkhart County have posted positions and will be hiring students by Sept. 1.

“HEA has helped cultivate a system that has enabled implementation of youth apprenticeships in our county across all seven school districts starting with high school juniors. The CareerWise model is a global best-practice and a transformative learning opportunity, and we are excited to collaborate with all of our partners to impact our youth”, said Jason Harrison, vice president of Student and Adult Pathways. 

The Student Signing Day event concludes the second day of the apprentices’ workplace boot camp – CareerWise’s training that prepares students for a professional workplace. The boot camp covers everything from executive-function skills like organization and task prioritization to the soft skills of working in teams, managing conflict and following employer dress codes.

“HEA is grateful to the Community Foundation of Elkhart County, whose support has been critical for our ability to launch this student apprenticeship initiative”, said Wiebe. “Beginning with our research trip to Germany and Switzerland in 2018, which involved county, regional and state leaders, we immediately understood the win-win nature of apprenticeships for both businesses and high school students.”

CareerWise Elkhart County is based on the CareerWise Colorado model, which launched in 2016, and was based on best practices learned from their state’s trip to Switzerland in 2015, organizers said.

“We’re very pleased that along with New York City, Elkhart County is one of two spots in the nation that is being given the opportunity to launch CareerWise in the first phase of a national buildout”, said Harrison.

The students signed a three-year commitment that includes high school credit, college credit, industry certifications and paid employment.

Allison Horner, a junior at Northridge High School, signed a letter to be a project coordinator for Horizon Education Alliance.

In her new role, Horner said she’s looking forward to being a part of making projects for new pathways for students to learn.

“I’m happy to get close with coworkers and help be part of the projects, run meetings and just be involved,” she said.

Rolando Lopez, a junior at Elkhart Central, signed an apprenticeship to be a project coordinator at Surf Air Wireless, a residential internet provider in Northwest Indiana.

“I’m excited about this opportunity as it will create a clear future for us as students  to get a hands-on learning experience in the fields of our interest,” he said.

Ryan Coates, vice president of business development at MapleNet Wireless, said he believes the apprenticeship program is something that has been needed in Elkhart County for a long time.

“I think this program is going to be beneficial in keeping some of these promising kids here in our local community,” he said.

Recruitment of businesses interested in hiring youth apprentices is ongoing, and student recruitment for the 2020 cohort will begin this winter.

“Throughout this journey, the students will be able to learn more and more about the skills that’ll help progress them and give them ideas of where they see themselves going in the future,” said Breanna Allen, HEA pathways director. “So, they could land in a different position or a higher-level position within the industry.”

 Individuals interested in becoming involved with CareerWise Elkhart County, may contact Allen at ballen@heaindiana.org.

For more information about how Elkhart County is designing a scalable, countywide modern youth apprenticeship system for students and industry, visit CareerWise Elkhart County.

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