A John Deere apprenticeship changed Abigail Parsons life

A John Deere apprenticeship changed Abigail Parson's life

 May 17, 2023

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For Abigail Parsons, becoming a high school welding apprentice at John Deere Davenport Works was a life-changing experience. It not only inspired Abigail to finish high school but led to a career that provided her the stability she’d always wanted.

“Without the welding program, I probably would have dropped out of school. I felt like the program helped provide me with the necessary tools needed for becoming an adult. I bought a car. I own a house," says Abigail. 

Finding skilled workers through John Deere apprenticeships

In recent years many high school students in communities with a John Deere facility, have found their future career through an apprenticeship program that introduces them to skilled trades. It’s a program that was born five years ago out of a need to find more skilled workers.

“It was clear, if we didn’t do anything different, we were not going to have enough people to do the type of work that needed to get done,” explains John Deere Director for Workforce & Community Growth, David Ottavianelli.

Providing students with a vision of success

The apprenticeship program was created to help grow a student candidate pipeline, targeting young adults who were unaware a need - and an opportunity - sat in their home communities.

“There are studies that show a good portion of the population gets their high school diploma but has no plans for higher education. It’s about one-third of those aged 25-64. The question is how do we identify and engage that group earlier in life?” asks David.

Career conversations start as soon as seventh and eighth grade, says David. “It’s about providing them with a vision of success,” adds David. And that vision is equally shared by the school, the student, and their parents.

Giving students alternative career paths to college

John Deere has community outreach teams in locations where it has factories with Waterloo and Dubuque, Iowa, and the Quad Cities (which includes Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois), says David.

“This is attractive to the schools because it provides an option for students who don’t plan on going to college, and it gives them a path to a career.”

Helping schools to support their students 

In early 2019, a model program was established in the Pella (Iowa) School District. By May of that year, nine high school juniors from the Davenport and North Scott (Eldridge, Iowa) districts formed the first class.

"It’s important to know this isn’t a Deere program. The schools are the sponsors. They know the candidates, they know the student body, they own the connection to the local businesses. This allows the schools to engage with multiple business partners and with more opportunities, more students get a chance. Everybody wins," comments David.

"Some of these students are coming from some underserved areas of our community. These are students who may never have finished school, and now they’re out on our shop floor. Our employees maybe see a bit of themselves in these students, or maybe they see their child in them. Either way, they can help can mentor a student in learning a trade while, maybe, also providing an opportunity to just grow by giving advice. But most importantly, we’re also seeing the future and that’s pretty cool," explains James Hotchkiss, a Davenport Works production employee serving as the factory’s community integration liaison.

Building on her background in trade work

The schools register the program through the U.S. Department of Labor. From 2019-2021 a total of 60 students started in the program with 42 receiving full-time employment. Abigail Parsons was one of those first students.

A Davenport Central High School student, Abigail started in the vocational program because trade work was in her background, having come from a family of roofers and carpenters.

“From the time I could walk, I was out working with all the guys,” explains Abigail.

Changing her life through the program

By Abigail's senior year, she was splitting her school day between classes and welding at John Deere. Abigail credits the apprenticeship program with giving her the beginnings of a life she wasn’t sure was possible.

Abigail said her friends now look to her for advice because of her experiences.

“The apprenticeship program can change lives regardless of if you want to actually do that work. If you're interested in those trades this program gives you an opportunity. And that’s important. I appreciate having a stable household. That was something I really wanted when I grew up, and I've given it to myself with this job," says Abigail. 

Enjoy career success through a John Deere apprenticeship

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John Deere apprenticeships develop highly skilled employees.

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