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By Grace Kim - Grace.Kim@dwd.wisconsin.com
September 17, 2021
Small chairs, small tables and small toys. When Courtney Calhoun looks around her toddler classroom, she doesn't just see child-sized furniture and playthings, she sees a colorful, imaginative world that allows her toddlers to learn, grow and become confident in the world around them.
While her friends head to their office jobs, Courtney is helping her toddlers solve puzzles to sharpen cognitive skills, teaching them to ride bikes to develop their gross motor skills, and reading story books for vocabulary expansion. And while some people may think she gets to "play all day," Calhoun's work in early childcare education has a lasting impact on Wisconsin's future workforce.
"I want to build a strong foundation for a love of learning for these children," Calhoun said. "When I see the children growing and understanding a little bit more about the world around them, I feel like I'm making a meaningful difference in their lives."
Calhoun is part of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's (DWD) Early Childcare Educator apprenticeship program that allows its apprentices to earn wages while learning industry skills. DWD partnered with Employ Milwaukee, the workforce development board in Milwaukee County, to bring in the first cohort of early childcare education apprentices, and the program is partially funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which is administered locally through Employ Milwaukee. The initial work to develop the program with local employers, was supported by a Department of Labor Grant, the American Apprenticeship Initiative (AAI). The AAI grant focused on creating apprenticeships in nontraditional areas, like IT and Childcare.
Early childcare educator apprentices work full time in a childcare setting as co-teacher and are mentored by experienced teachers. It's a 4,000 hour-long (two-year) program that includes 432 hours of paid related instruction at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
The purpose of the program is to bring in more qualified early childcare teachers into the field to address the workforce shortage, which is currently impacting job decisions made by the parents. When working parents do not have access to childcare, or when the cost of care is out of reach, they have to make difficult choices including working fewer hours, changing jobs, or dropping out the of workforce altogether.
"DWD is thrilled that we can provide an apprenticeship program in an industry as valuable as early childcare education," DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek said. "Finding quality childcare is a barrier to employment for many Wisconsinites and so I'm excited that we are finding innovative ways to bolster the industry and tackle this challenge."
Upon completion of the DWD apprenticeship program, apprentices receive an Early Childcare Educator Technical Diploma, which will enable them to become head teachers in a classroom. They also receive an Apprenticeship Completion Program Certificate from DWD.
"I already have an associate's degree in business management and so I didn't want the financial debt by going back to get another degree in early childcare education," Calhoun said. "I’m so appreciative of the DWD apprenticeship program because I can further my career in an industry that I love without being out-of-pocket."
Calhoun's passion for shaping young minds is also personal as her one-year-old son will be attending NextDoor this fall, the same early childhood education center where she works.
"I'm extremely excited to have my son go to NextDoor because he's a little sponge and it's such a great environment for him to learn." Calhoun said. "Children learn best through their peers and so I'm excited about what he will learn from others and his potential growth."
Calhoun's excitement and love for the early childcare education program is palpable – she's clearly good at what she does. And while the DWD apprenticeship program is opening the door to career advancement for Calhoun, it's also readying a future workforce to help Wisconsin's economy thrive.
"With the significant shortage of early childhood teachers, the DWD Apprenticeship Program gives us an opportunity to build our workforce and support our current employees who desire to grow in their career," NextDoor president Tracy Sparrow said. "At Next Door, we believe our team is doing the most important work in Milwaukee and we appreciate the opportunities to bring people into the field."
Employers can learn more about creating an apprenticeship model at their business to address their workforce needs at https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/apprenticeship/ra-employers.htm.
Individuals looking to go into a new field can learn about the DWD apprenticeship program at https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/apprenticeship/ra-applicants.htm.