PRAIRIE DU SAC, WI. JAN. 31, 2022 – Sauk Prairie Schools Superintendent Jeff Wright and his staff have been working for years to help students find career pathways. With a robust apprenticeship program, the school district had also become a partner for area businesses – adjusting training to fit industry demands to ensure students are ready for the future of manufacturing, agriculture and health care.
There was just one problem.
“We were using equipment that in some cases was nearly as old as our 60-year-old high school,” Wright said. “We have identified with the partners we work with some needed improvements to our equipment in order to make sure that our students are best prepared to enter the modern workforce rather than just study the history of it.”
Now the Sauk Prairie School District is finally able to purchase the advanced manufacturing equipment students need to be ready to enter the workforce, offer area employers training opportunities, workers a chance to gain new skills and for the first time have a dedicated health care careers classroom.
That’s because the school district is one of 12 programs across Wisconsin that has received a Workforce Innovation Grant. The grant – up to $2.4 million for the Sauk Prairie School District – is aimed at collaborative programs aimed at solving regional workforce challenges. In December, Gov. Tony Evers announced grants totaling up to $59.5 million, with a second round of funding to be announced later this year. The grants are paid for by $100 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The programs funded range from job training and entrepreneurship support to addressing child care access. Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes and Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek took part in a roundtable discussion Monday at the school district’s offices in Prairie du Sac.
“What makes this project so impactful is that area businesses and schools are working side by side to not only help students gain the skills they need to successfully enter the workforce but to help area industries and workers maintain and grow their skills as technology changes rapidly,” Hughes said. “This not only builds a stronger economy, it builds a stronger community.”
“Wisconsin’s record-low unemployment and strong labor force participation rate are reasons to celebrate and we applaud Sauk Prairie School District’s ground-breaking approach to address the workforce needs of the region’s employers,” Pechacek said. “Investing in training spaces and equipment to prepare workers for career opportunities with growing manufacturing, agribusiness and health care employers marks an important step forward in addressing the region’s skill gap.”
The school district chose to focus this career programming on advanced manufacturing, health care and agricultural science not only because of the area’s workforce needs but because these subjects offer students many career choices, Wright said.
“These are all three areas where students can choose to go straight from high school and into the workforce,” Wright said. “But they also could choose to go on in advanced education.”
Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tywana German said the availability of skilled workers is a major concern of the area businesses she works with. This initiative can help provide area businesses with the workers they need to grow.
“Never before have we been in the position where every student can leave Sauk Prairie High School with a certification that lets them earn $18 plus an hour right away,” German said. “This also sets them up for the opportunity to have an employer pay for their education.”
German and Wright both said they anticipate the high school facilities will be used by area employers to help their workforce gain new skills.
“It’s a learning center for all ages,” German said.
Sauk Prairie senior Emma Breunig, 18, leaves school early every day to take part in her apprenticeship. Breunig works on a dairy farm in Waunakee. Through the high school she’s taken courses in everything from agricultural basics to veterinary science.
Breunig did not grow up on a farm but rather began thinking about agriculture as a career when a friend began working on a farm.
“I just found I love doing it,” she said. “I love being hands-on and working with the animals. The classes that are offered here they can pull you into wanting to be on the farm even if you didn’t grow up on the farm. … We call it my happy place.”