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Teen apprentices try out careers

Superior High School senior Tara Carlson (right) holds Polar Vortex, a cat who lost his tail and ear tips to severe frostbite, as Dr. Bob McClellan examines his paw Friday at Superior Animal Hospital. Carlson started working at the animal hospital over the summer through the Youth Apprenticeship program. The job helped steer her future career path. (Maria Lockwood /

One blood draw shifted Tara Carlson’s future.

“Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to go into working with animals, and at first, I thought I wanted to be a vet,” said Carlson, a Superior High School senior.

Carlson enrolled in the Youth Apprenticeship program, and worked with Superior Animal Hospital. The first day of her apprenticeship, she saw a blood vein draw and nearly passed out. But she stuck with it, learning to trust her co-workers and earn their trust in return.

 “After a while of working there, I realized I didn’t want to be a veterinarian, I wanted to be a vet tech,” Carlson told Superior business leaders Wednesday. “This is like the best experience I ever could have had, and instead of going to vet school and deciding then I didn’t want to be a vet, I got to do it now.”

She is now enrolled in a local veterinarian technician program.

“This is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” Carlson said.

Youth Apprenticeship places high school juniors and seniors in jobs. But it’s more than a paycheck; the work is connected to their career interests.

Students in the program have to commit to 450 hours of work a year and take courses that relate to the job. In return, they earn a paycheck, scope out a possible vocation and boost their resume.

Employers provide the pay and supervision. In return, they get their name out in the school and community, and the chance to interest students in their work field.

“It’s an opportunity to peek behind the curtain to see what’s going on,” said Dave Minor, president and CEO of the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County.

Candidates are prescreened to make sure they are qualified and interested in the career area. They must still go through the traditional hiring process, said Dr. Bob McClellan of Superior Animal Hospital. And parents are an integral part of the equation.

“This Youth Apprenticeship is doing exactly what you want,” Suzannah Crandall, youth services specialist with Northwest CEP out of Ashland, told business leaders. “When you hire youth in the program, the family has to be involved. It’s a complete program hitting every demographic you need to hit to pass on the passion you have for business.”

Blair Mahan remembers a time when electricians passed a pride for their trade down to their children, forming a dynasty. That began to change around the ’70s.

“The guys who worked for me started raising accountants, not tradesmen,” said Mahan, owner of Benson Electric.

Yet Superior is a trade town, he said, built on railroads, boats and manufacturing.

“We’re having to go at it from a different angle,” Crandall said. “It’s not being passed on from parents anymore. The onus is on business to put in the hook.”

Jeff Clark of Waukesha Metal Products is sold on Youth Apprenticeship, fighting for candidates every year.

“It’s the best way to get kids into the work environment,” he said, adding that it widens the talent pipeline.

Counselors and teachers can tell students about where the jobs are and what they pay.

“One of the things we need are up-close examples,” said Superior High School Principal Kent Bergum.

The staff at Superior Animal Hospital are accustomed to working with interns.

“It was easy for us,” McClellan said.

But Youth Apprenticeship students can work anywhere, Crandall said, from jobs in health care, manufacturing and bookkeeping to agriculture. Although the district has no numbers goal, the plan is to fill the gaps businesses want to fill with interested students.

The more the better, Clark said.

“It grows; it’s infectious,” he said. “Once you engage multiple students in the program, it’s infectious in the community. They start talking about what they’re doing.”

High schools with students involved in the Youth Apprenticeship program include Northwestern, Ashland, Washburn, Mellen and Superior. The program is available to any school district that wants to participate.

To learn more

For more information, Superior students and parents can call Dale Van Ert at (218) 428-4113; businesses can contact Dave Minor at (715) 394-7716; students and parents from any other district can contact Suzannah Crandall, (715) 682-9141, ext. 201. More information is also available online at