MADISON (WKOW) -- With Wisconsin's high demand for skilled trade workers, many Wisconsin high school graduates are turning to utility careers.
Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin reports it's seeing increased enrollment in its apprenticeship programs.
"My classes keep getting bigger and bigger in this apprenticeship program," said Kendal Schmidt, an Electrical Line Worker Apprenticeship Instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTV).
During a recent underground electrical equipment training session, Schmidt said he typically has close to 30 students per class in the four-year program. Now, he says he has more than 45 second-year apprentices.
MEUW states the allure of working in the community they grew up in and paid on-the-job training is attractive to many graduates.
Commonly, students in these programs do one week of training each quarter at the technical college along with about 8,000 hours of on-the-job training over four years.
"Being able to contribute, turning the lights on, that's the main reason I've chosen my career path," said Sam Turner, a Line Worker Apprentice with Sauk City Utilities. "Plus, you're getting paid to go to school and learning things you are going to use when you're at work."
Michael Czuprynko is the Director of Safety Services and Operations for MEUW. He said the apprenticeship allows students to work in their hometown, giving them the opportunity to be part of that community.
"They're happy, they love their jobs. And also, the ones that are homegrown in their communities, it's really nice for them to be home and actually be part of making that community better and giving them reliable power," Czuprynko said.
The increased interest is helping fill the gap left by the number of people that left the trades over the last few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports over 4 million skilled workers are needed nationally to replace those who stopped during the pandemic and the baby boom generation retiring.
"[We] knew that people were retiring earlier, which was making people move up farther in those in their careers, which is leaving a gap down below," Czuprynko said. "Not having those line workers available over there, too, was making it difficult. And we always have openings at our utilities."
Czuprynko said the most important thing right now is building a future pipeline of workers -- while also providing them with the proper and safe training.