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ISU-John Deere Program Prepares Student Apprentices for the Job Market

Jamauryus Bradford-Gates, a student in IGNITE, a Hawkeye Community College course, works at a John Deere (SHIPHT) facility.

A program led by professors from Iowa State University and John Deere is helping high school graduates enter the John Deere workforce and improve their communication skills for future employment through a new apprenticeship program.

The four-week speaking and writing course works with 50 students entering their final year of 12 high schools and takes place at John Deere facilities in Davenport, Waterloo and East Moline, Illinois.

Apprentices work part-time during the school year and 35 hours a week during the summer.

The program also added IGNITE: Introduction to Advanced Manufacturing this year, which is aimed at eighth through 12th graders. IGNITE is operated by Hawkeye Community College on John Deere’s Waterloo TechWorks campus. Students learn advanced manufacturing and get paid.

David Ottavianelli, director of workforce and community development at John Deere, said Waterloo was added to the program this year after attracting huge interest the previous year.

“It’s, furthermore, really to help improve that candidate pool of high school students to give them the skills and the awareness to do that,” he said.

The program had six participants in its first year in 2019 and now has 50 apprentices. Students can focus on computer numerical control (CNC) machining, welding, and software engineering as part of the learning.

Emma Murray, Assistant Professor of Education at UIS, is the program instructor. She teaches high-level courses in scientific and technical writing at the university.

Student apprentices can go into the field and shadow John Deere employees and perform hands-on work within legal boundaries, she said.

From there, if they’ve mastered their skills, got certified, and have the behavioral skills, like showing up on time and communicating well with people, they could be offered a full-time job if they have 18, Murray said.

Twelve out of 15 students from Davenport and East Moline, Ill., were hired for full-time employment with John Deere after their apprenticeship last year, she said.

“It was pretty cool to see it making a difference to them and their future careers,” she said.

Apprentices participated in a pitch contest, where students had to present the benefits of the program to John Deere employees.

“It was a way to make them feel comfortable in front of an audience, even though you know they would usually just be with a friend talking,” Murray said. “Then that kind of preparation prepared them for their final official presentation, where they share with stakeholders from John Deere and IGNITE their experience with the program.”

Working with John Deere employees also taught Murray new things, like the importance of communication, she said.

“From interviews I’ve conducted with some of the engineers at John Deere, there’s a lot of communication going on – (from) proposals to writing emails to creating PowerPoint presentations “, she said.

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