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Apprentice Academy launches young careers


Neva Widner and Matias Valero helped remove a dam on this site as part of a stream restoration project.

Neva Widner and Matias Valero helped remove a dam on this site as part of a stream restoration project.

Though the Conservation Apprentice Academy is young – beginning its fifth year this summer – its impact on young careers is already evident. Since 2011, soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) throughout Minnesota have hosted a total of 139 apprentices who worked one-on-one with district professionals on projects such as water-quality monitoring, assessments, field surveys, soil and water management plan development and educational activities. A follow-up survey of all participants conducted one year after completing the program (with a 74% response rate) showed that 94% were either currently employed in a natural resources/science career or taking college coursework in the field.
 
Several program alumni now work for the SWCD where they served as apprentices. Matias Valero (South St. Louis SWCD) and Neva Widner (Carlton SWCD) served in the first year of the Academy and last October got to work together professionally on a stream restoration project. They reflected about how their time with the Academy prepared them to complete such a big project. “The Apprentice Academy was the bridge between college and career for us and many other apprentices,” said Widner. “Since then we have each been hired back full time and work together on various restoration projects that require engineering and technical assistance. For the stream restoration project, Matias did much of the design and engineering work while I was applying for permits, coordinating with landowners and managing the project and partners.”
 
Along with the career benefits for apprentices, a substantial amount of work has been completed – 65,146 total hours – that has improved our state’s water resources. Since 2011, apprentices planted more than 100,000 plants, conducted 1,126 wildlife surveys, took 10,733 water samples and offered environmental education to 3,639 people, to name just a few of their accomplishments.

Widner encourages young people with an interest in this kind of work to apply for an apprentice position. “There is no other place you can work with landowners, county/state/federal nonprofits, private partners and countless conservation programs. Likewise, the value that SWCDs get from apprentices is equally as productive, as many apprentices have up-to-date education in GIS mapping, current issues such as effects of climate change and invasive species, and social media/education/outreach.”
 
Applications are now open for 2015 apprentices!