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Milton Hershey School launches new pre-apprenticeship program

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Hoping to better prepare high school students who are undecided about their post-graduation plans, the Milton Hershey School has launched a new program in conjunction with the state.

With approval from the state Department of Labor and Industry, officials at the school, which serves boys and girls from lower-income families, have started the state's first pre-apprenticeship program. 

As part of the announcement last month, Milton Hershey signed an agreement with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts to make culinary arts its first pre-apprenticeship pathway.

Milton Hershey officials said about 89 percent of school seniors over the last three years have gone one of three ways after high school. They have chosen to attend a two-year technical training program, pursue a four-year college degree program or enter military service.

But the other 11 percent of seniors in a graduating class of about 200 students are still undecided. Most of those students will likely enter the workforce after high school, while some may pursue college later.

The school created the pre-apprenticeship program as a way to give that undecided group more early training to hopefully improve career opportunities after high school. They also want to create a pipeline for employers who are looking to find skilled people or replace aging workers.

Through the new program, which could eventually be available to all 11 career and technical education pathways at Milton Hershey, students will be able to get more hands-on job training and a pre-apprenticeship certificate while in high school. And those training hours can then be applied to an adult apprenticeship program, allowing young people to potentially advance faster in their careers. 

Growing workforce demands by companies in many industries are forcing schools and business groups to come up with more short-term training solutions, ones that don't necessarily involve higher education.

"I think there are a lot of people starting to understand that there are other ways to become successful," said Dave Curry, Milton Hershey's director of career and technical education. 

The Wolf administration also is trying to increase state aid for career and technical education programs. The administration hopes to double the number of registered apprentices in Pennsylvania by 2025, up from the current figure of 15,000, according to the state’s Apprenticeship and Training Office.

Andrew Helmer, vice president of human resources for Hershey Entertainment, which already provides internships and cooperative education opportunities to Milton Hershey students, said this new program will expand the training possibilities for high school students.

Pre-apprenticeship also could fill the pipeline of young talent Hershey Entertainment relies on to hire and help run its facilities in Derry Township. They includes several restaurants, such as Devon Seafood Grill and Houlihan's.

In addition, school officials said the program and others like it could entice other students to pursue skilled trades and go directly into an industry after high school, rather than enter a more traditional college degree program.

Because most current seniors already have a plan at this point in the school year, Curry said the new program should start to have a bigger impact on the high school next school year. 

A construction/carpentry pathway is expected to be the second area added to the pre-apprenticeship program. From there, Curry said health sciences could follow.

"I'm excited about where this is going," he said. 

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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