Apprenticeship students

Apprenticeship students Drake Kass and Kaden Gillenwater are apprentices in industrial maintenance mechanics. The program accepted 17 new apprentices this year and partnered with 15 employers.

Unlike the majority of high school operations this year, the Northwest Missouri Regional Apprenticeship Program in the St. Joseph School District is continuing as normal.

Clara Liles, Hillyard Technical Center career counselor, said since the employers involved in the program are essential companies, students still are able to get the hands-on experience and work normal hours.

“Students who like to make, create and fix things are excited about the opportunity to actually get into these businesses,” Liles said.

Liles said there was an increase in applicants this year to 27, and 17 were accepted. That includes five welders, six industrial maintenance mechanics, five IT generalists and one machinist.

In its first year, the program started with four employers and it now has 15. They include Lifeline Foods, Triumph Foods, Reardon Machine, I & M Machine and Fabrication, Schuetz Container, Hillyard Companies, Purina Animal Nutrition, VanAm Tool and Engineering, Daily’s Premium Meats, Clarios, ProServ, Envision Tech Inc., Nor-Am Cold Storage and BMS Logistics.

“I think more companies are recognizing the benefits of apprenticeship and the appeal of being able to tap in to high school students as a potential workforce,” Liles said.

Liles said even though schools went virtual in the spring when the pandemic began, the apprenticeship program continued and kept students learning.

“Many of them began their full-time work at that time and it was a great opportunity for them to get in and earn their on-the-job training hours,” Liles said.

Hillyard has been part of the program since the first year. Gregg Roberts, vice president of human resources, said the company offers IT apprenticeships because with today’s manufacturing there’s a lot of data network integration that has to do with supply and demand.

“An IT department has multiple jobs in it whether it’s working on computers, working on the data or working on websites,” Roberts said. “This gives that person the ability to see multiple departments and then hone in on where they’re most comfortable.”

Kristie Arthur, St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce director of workforce development, said the program is one of the most robust in Missouri due to the school district’s leadership and employers stepping up to train students.

“A lot of them are working and they’re earning a nice wage and I think that’s a huge benefit in a time like this,” Arthur said.

Arthur said this also is a benefit for employers who still are trying to hire employees for the large essential workforce in St. Joseph.

“It’s very important for us to maintain the youth in our community and we have a very strong economy,” Arthur said.

The current unemployment rate in St. Joseph is at 5%, but Arthur said it’s one of the lower rates in the state and the country.

Arthur also said anyone looking for a job can visit the Chamber’s Uncommon Life Job Center on their website.

Arthur and Liles hope they can continue expanding the program to accommodate more students in the area. Any companies interested in joining the program are encouraged to go to

Bailey Ketcham can be reached at