Students, parents, and employers see momentum with UpSkill youth apprenticeship program

When college freshman Ethan Scott graduates from the Indiana University Luddy School, he will already have five years of work experience in the world of information technology.

While in high school, Ethan began working as an IT support technician for Five Star Technology Solutions through ROI’s UpSkill Work and Learn modern youth apprenticeship program that launched in 2021. “UpSkill has given me a position that I would have never thought I would be in,” he said.

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.

Students in the second cohort of ROI’s UpSkill Work and Learn modern youth apprenticeship program pose for a group photo during their signing day earlier this year.

Ethan Scott is one of 45 current student apprentices in the program. Eight apprentices like Ethan have already graduated from high school and continue to work for their UpSkill employers. 

While the program offers students the chance to gain real-world experiences aligned with their career interests, apprentices report that friendly co-workers, fun work environments, and paychecks make this experience even better. 

Students can select from different pathways for their UpSkill job: advanced manufacturing, national security and defense, life sciences, business, and information technology. Washington High School junior Amorenio Martinez works in marketing and accounting for Indiana Safety and Supply. He said the UpSkill experience has helped him find his way into the “real world.” “It has opened my eyes to new opportunities and has helped me understand what I want to do and who I want to be,” he said.

Edgewood High School senior Lauren Cosby agrees. She currently works in marketing for Smithville Communications. “UpSkill has helped me find a great future for myself,” she said. “I am glad that I was able to learn in a hands-on way what it’s like in a specific career path before I go to college.”

ROI coordinates the program with employers, schools, and college partners while also supporting students through the application process, interviews, placement, training, and ongoing guidance. In 2021 and 2023, ROI received the Indiana Youth Apprenticeship Accelerator award from Ascend Indiana to help fund the initial UpSkill initiative. In May 2023, UpSkill was awarded READI funds for to expand to every county in the Indiana Uplands region over the next three years.

Building a talent pipeline

For employers, UpSkill is seen as a new way to build talent locally and grow their workforce.

“Our team finds great value in having apprentices be part of our workflow,” said Erica Dooley-Dorocke, vice president of marketing for Smithville Communications. “They are bright, eager to assist with the work, and they get to learn new skills simultaneously. Our apprentices have been raised in a digital-first world, so they understand the tools we use and quickly adapt to changing priorities or need. We’re thrilled to play a small part in their early professional development.”

Smithville employs three UpSkill students – two on the marketing team and one in corporate IT. The marketing team apprentices impressed their employer recently by taking the initiative to help develop “The Connection Keeper,” the company’s newsletter publication for retirees. The student apprentices assisted Smithville’s marketing specialist, Morgan Bruns, with writing articles for the newsletter. They contacted employees to gather quotes and details for stories while learning how to write in the Smithville brand’s voice. “We were pleased with their eagerness to learn and were surprised with their initiative and quick delivery of the content,” Dooley-Dorocke said. The newsletter’s distribution has now been expanded to current employees and their families. Student apprentices will be involved in the development of future quarterly newsletters.

“Knowing you are making a difference in the lives of students and their future career paths has a positive impact on the whole organization,” said Nick Shafer, who has helped facilitate UpSkill apprentices working at German American Bank.

Adam Gross, vice chancellor of Ivy+ Career Link at Ivy Tech Community College, describes the UpSkill experience as “top-notch.” “We have a top-notch candidate with top-notch communication and partnership,” he said. “Working with ROI has been a tremendous pleasure, and supporting this UpSkil project has been very rewarding.”

PRD Inc. President Mark Murphy said this program is also a way to bridge the gap between the schools and the business community. “I absolutely love how this program has brought everyone to the table to help pave the way for a better future for our students, schools, and local companies. This community and surrounding areas are fortunate to have such a great program like UpSkill.” 

For employers such as Becky Higgins in the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department, the UpSkill experience has eased her worries about the future workforce. “After interviewing the applicants for the UpSkill Work and Learn program, I believe our future is in good hands,” she said.

Finding a path for the future

Not only are students and employers finding value in UpSkill, but so are parents, who are watching their children find career paths before crossing high school graduation stages.

Melissa Loudin’s son, Daniel Loudin-Maguson, a junior at North Lawrence Career Center, is an engineering technician for SAIC. Melissa describes UpSkill as an “amazing opportunity” for students that shows them what their future could look like working in the Uplands. “The companies want them to come back and work for them after college,” she said. “It gives our youth a head start in preparing for and after college.”

UpSkill also teaches students lessons that cannot be found in a textbook, parent Michele Craig said. Her son is a junior at Barr-Reeve High School and works as an IT support technician at RTC Communications. “This apprenticeship is a valuable tool to help my son figure out what he wants to do after high school,” she said. “It is a small taste of the real world.”

Momentum for the years ahead

Currently, six counties and 21 employers are involved in UpSkill – with plans to grow.

“This modern youth apprenticeship program is an important solution to address the future workforce needs in the Indiana Uplands region and the state of Indiana,” said ROI Vice President of Talent Development Michi McClaine. “Our region is full of opportunities for our young Uplanders, and programs such as UpSkill show them how they can have a successful future here after graduation.

“We are always looking to add to our impressive roster of youth apprentices and regional employer partners,” added McClaine. “Our region is on the rise, and will continue to prosper with a skilled talent pipeline.”

Visit the UpSkill page for more information and to fill out a student interest form. If you are an employer interested in UpSkill, contact Career Connections Specialist Jen Staab at

Watch the video below to see some of our UpSkill students in action.