Apprentice Program at McFarlane Gets Attention

McFarlane Manufacturing is working to create a pipeline from area high schools into the trade industry.

The Sauk City company has ramped up its Youth Apprenticeship Program in recent years, collaborating to give local high school students the opportunity to gain real-world employment experience.

“This program provides young people with the opportunity to learn as they contribute to a professional environment,” production manager Greg Schinker said Sept. 9. “They earn an honest wage and they earn high school credits in the process. It allows them to understand what career opportunities are available to them… see what they like and what they don’t like at a relatively young age. And we’re providing an informed, competent, productive workforce for the future.”

McFarlane, which began the program a few years ago, had five youth apprentices last year. The individuals, who typically enter the program at about 16 or 17 years old, are expected to work about 450 hours each year.

Thus far, a majority of McFarlane’s youth apprentices have stuck around the program for two years. One has joined the company full time, while one individual who recently completed the program left with a four-year partial scholarship from McFarlane.

“It’s pretty cool being able to participate with those young adults and to see the lights go on,” general manager Todd Lassanske said. “It’s been eye opening for myself to see how much our team members embrace their presence as well.

“I look at some of what these young folks are experiencing as a junior or senior in high school, I didn’t get that experience as a junior or senior in college. For them to be able to do that is pretty amazing.”

McFarlane has seen apprentices from a number of schools, including Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin Heights and Portage. The program also works closely with CESA 5, the local coordinator for the YA program.

The goal isn’t to create special projects for high school students to complete. Instead, the entities have come together to create a program that puts them right in the work force.

“We have kind of a syllabus that the youth apprenticeship program’s created,” Schinker said. “The youth apprentice is agreeing to basically be a member of our team and the work force. The business and the mentor, which would be myself, is going to fill the obligations of the program, which is basically to hire a youth apprentice in welding and teach them all the aspects of welding. Some of that might be material prep, it might be machine operation, it might be the maintenance, the different facets and the different technical skills of welding to make sure they get a well-rounded education in the work force.”

“I think initially there was an assumption that these young kids couldn’t work in a manufacturing environment,” Lassanske said. “Really, they can do just about everything in our facility outside of operate a forklift and a crane. So it’s been really cool to watch. … They really do come in and they’re part of the team.”

Coltan Myers, who joined the program in June 2019 with a focus on welding and manufacturing, turned his apprentice experience into a college opportunity. Upon graduation from Portage High School last spring, Myers completed the summer with McFarlane before heading to the Advanced Welding Institute in Eagle River.

“I like working here because it’s always hands on and there’s always something to do. The people here are great,” Myers, who supported business needs while learning welding skills in ag and structural steel, said in a video recapping the experience. “When I started, I had a pretty large interest in welding, and I had a little knowledge about it through classes from high school. … I’ve actually grown a lot and strengthened my skills welding. I know a lot more than I started with, and now I’m even going to college for welding.”

“He walks out excited about going to school,” Lassanske said. “And we’ve had others that have come in and completely turned on their heels as far as what they want to do. That’s a success as well. They didn’t go off and spend two, three or four years worth of tuition to find out that they didn’t want to be a mechanical engineer.”

There are a number of tracks available for interested individuals. Schinker said that he isn’t looking for a particular skill set when he interviews apprentices. He just wants to see a good attitude and a desire to work and learn.

“Usually they will gravitate toward something they like,” said Schinker, who is also on the technical advisory board at Wisconsin Heights. “The goal is to go hand-in-hand on this journey, to teach them and then on the back end there’s some positives for us too.

“From our perspective, the risk is low and the reward is high, always, because we’ve given these young people a shot. Whether they work at McFarlane for four months, four years or 40 years, they’re going to learn something and they’re going to take something away from that experience.”

Source: The Sauk Prairie Eagle