Building bright futures: High schoolers find success with UpSkill apprenticeship program

Ashton Moore’s first job was working at a pizza place close to home. It was a way to earn his own money for the first time, but his paychecks were small, and he craved a more meaningful experience.

Moore, a senior at Edgewood High School, heard a presentation in the spring of 2022 about ROI’s UpSkill Work and Learn, a modern youth apprenticeship program. He eagerly decided to apply and was selected to join the program’s first cohort. In August 2022, he started working in customer service at German American Bank.

Moore plans to study business in college, and this experience is helping him reach that goal.

“I’ve loved it. I like everybody that works there. The hours are perfect for me; I leave school early and leave work at 5 or 6 p.m.,” said the Edgewood High School student. Moore works occasional Saturdays as well.

UpSkill is a two- to three-year work and learn experience that provides selected high school students with a paid job, career credentials, and college courses.

Students work for a variety of employers in the Indiana Uplands region and receive high school credit for their work time. They work either before, during, or after the school day.

The program offers students the chance to get real-world experiences that are aligned with their career interests. The friendly co-workers, fun work environments, and paychecks only make the experiences better. Students can currently choose from five different pathways for their UpSkill job: advanced manufacturing, national security and defense, life sciences, business, and information technology. For the employers, it is a way to locally build talent and grow their workforce. 

ROI coordinates the program with employers, schools, and college partners while also supporting students through the application process, interviews, placement, training, and ongoing guidance. 

“UpSkill equips students with the skills necessary to secure a promising future in the Uplands,” said ROI Vice President of Talent Development Michi McClaine.

“Through this youth apprenticeship program, young Uplanders enter a new world of possibilities and learn about career opportunities in the 11-county region they call home. Navigating this new world, students learn important skills, including how to communicate professionally and problem solve in a real work environment– all while learning complex tools and software programs.”

Real-world experiences

North Lawrence Career Center senior Sophie McDuffee began taking engineering classes her sophomore year.

“My dad is an environmental engineer. He set me in the right direction for what I want to do. It does fit who I am. I really like math and science. I also like seeing processes. Engineering makes a lot of sense to me,” McDuffee said.

She first heard about UpSkill her junior year and decided to apply at the beginning of 2022. She picked the advanced manufacturing pathway based on her interest in engineering and was hired as an engineering technician at SAIC, a military defense contractor in Bedford. She began working in August 2022.

McDuffee initially worked on the production floor assembling pieces.

“It was a lot more handy work than what I had in mind, which was honestly cool to see,” she said.

“I learned a lot about tools and hardware, which was definitely very valuable.”

One skill she learned quickly was how to solve problems independently. Working on site for three hours a day did not leave a lot of extra time to ask questions, she explained.

“When I worked on the floor I would get a task and it would sometimes be hard to figure out how to do something. I wouldn’t want to ask questions one after the other. Part of it is figuring it out, like using more of my expertise,” she said.

After a few months, she began working upstairs on 3D modeling and engineering drawings. She applied the same problem-solving skills to her new role in 3D modeling and drafting.

McDuffee plans to attend Purdue University this fall and credits her UpSkill experience for helping her to get accepted into her choice school. After working at SAIC, she said she is considering majoring in industrial or mechanical engineering.

Her parents, Ryan and Summer McDuffee, enjoyed watching their dedicated and hard-working daughter’s confidence increase as she worked at SAIC. 

“We don’t push her too hard. A lot of it is all her. We just try to guide her. She’s been that way her whole life,” Summer said.

The McDuffees were also excited when they heard about UpSkill and how it could show Sophie a world of career opportunities as she prepares to leave high school.

“I know she’s really thankful to have the opportunity, and we’re thankful she has it. We’re proud she was one of the students selected,” Ryan said.

“It’s great for Sophie to be a part of that first group of people to help pave the way for the next round of students.”

Working as a customer service specialist, Ashton Moore cashes checks for customers, prints out transaction lists, updates accounts, and opens new ones. He has regular customers he interacts with, and because he floats between three different branches, he gets to meet new people often.

Ashton’s father Tobey Moore said he loves how UpSkill has turned his once shy son into a dedicated bank employee who enjoys interacting with customers and meeting new people. He describes Ashton as a responsible but reserved teen. 

“I got lucky with him. … As a kid, he would talk to me, but when we would get around other people, he was always quiet,” Tobey said of his youngest child.

“I am glad he was connected with UpSkill. I think it has brought him out of his shell. Dealing with the public, as we know, is sometimes not an easy task.”

Tobey said he completely supported Ashton’s decision to quit his first job and start his apprenticeship at German American Bank

“I took him for the interview. Once he was interviewed, he was really excited about it. He hasn’t had anything negative to say about it since he started working,” he said.

Like Sophie, working at German American Bank helped Ashton finalize his post-graduation plans.

“I was planning on studying business in college, but this opportunity has really made me want to pursue it more,” Ashton said.

Ashton wants to attend Indiana University this fall.

“I think it’s a really, really good experience, especially if the apprenticeship you are applying for is something you want to do outside of school or ahead in your career. The UpSkill program is really impactful,” he said.

Tobey agrees.

“There wasn’t anything like that when I was in school,” he said.

“I honestly think it steers students in a direction toward a career they enjoy. It’s been really good for him.”

For the first year of UpSkill, 27 students were employed by 11 employers across the region. The second cohort of UpSkill students is in place and students will be recognized with an official signing day in June. 

For more information and to fill out a student interest form visit the UpSkill page. For any questions email Career Connections Specialist Jen Staab at