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Erin O’Toole Helps Students Become Career-ready

Erin O’Toole is the new youth apprenticeship coordinator for the Door County Economic Development Corporation, arriving there from her previous position overseeing marketing for the Pagel Family Businesses in Green Bay. 

A graduate of UW-Platteville with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business marketing/communications, O’Toole works with the Ahnapee Youth Apprenticeship Consortium and Door County school counselors and principals to bridge gaps between students who are looking for jobs and local businesses that are seeking staff. 

The Youth Apprenticeship program helps students explore career options, build résumés, prepare for interviews and develop career skills.

“The big focus for this program is allowing students to really explore what might be a good fit for them and – whether that is something in the trades, or if that means going off to college for a four-year degree – it gives them an opportunity to explore and get exposure to a variety of options prior to deciding on a college major or joining the workforce right away,” O’Toole said.

Business participants benefit from the vetting process that students go through when joining the program – which ensures that they’re committed and highly motivated – and they also benefit from the program’s state backing.

“Youth Apprenticeship [YA] is truly a win/win for both the students and the businesses,” O’Toole said. “It’s a unique program because it is run through the state of Wisconsin under the Department of Workforce Development, so there are some protections that come for the business that you maybe wouldn’t get with just hiring a student independently.”

Student participants are classified as student learners, meaning that in certain situations, they are allowed to operate equipment that other minor workers may not be able to. The student workers receive school credit and are not eligible to file for unemployment benefits from the employer. 

There is also great community value from programs that encourage students to look around their hometowns for work opportunities, rather than focusing on heading to bigger cities immediately after graduating from high school. 

The YA program’s goal is to get students “college, career and community ready,” and O’Toole believes students who gain experiences and skills within their local business community are more likely to help build and nurture that community in the future.

“It really helps to instill that value of community, especially if they get exposure to a business up here in their hometown of Door County, then they’re able – after going to continue on to college – to choose to come back and help to build the community that helped to give them a start,” O’Toole said.

The program is not about pushing students in a particular direction, but rather, letting them explore all their options.

“The program gives students the chance to find something that might be their niche that they didn’t have the option to explore before, and to see what might be a good fit for them,” O’Toole said. “That could be anything from a trade, to going the college route, or something maybe more untraditional than that, like being an artist. We’re just really giving students the opportunity to find what is a good fit for them.”

Businesses that are interested in participating in the YA program may email O’Toole at [email protected] Students who would like to get involved may email O’Toole or speak to their school counselors to make the connection.

To spotlight a local nonprofit by sharing your involvement with it, email Vanessa McGowan at [email protected].

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