Concordia University Wisconsin recently received a $15,000 award that will enable its School of Pharmacy (CUWSOP) to support Youth Apprenticeship pharmacy technician pathways in Milwaukee County.

Earlier this month, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Foundation announced CUWSOP as one of only three schools nationwide to receive a prestigious diversity scholarship grant, awarded each year to a small number of schools that demonstrate a commitment to advancing access to and awareness of opportunities in pharmacy education for under-represented populations. 

Concordia’s award-winning proposal involves expanding work-based learning curriculum and resources for high school students interested in becoming pharmacy technicians in the Milwaukee region, an area in dire need of more entry-level pharmacy professionals.

Director of Pharmacy Recruitment Michael Pickart, PhD, worked with Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice James Lokken, PharmD, on the scholarship proposal. Together with Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and the Southwest Milwaukee Consortium partners, they plan to grow the greater Milwaukee Youth Apprenticeship (YA) opportunities over the next year. 

“We’re here because we can help Boys and Girls Club expand their career development programming for high school students in health care, especially for pharmacy,” Pickart said. “Concordia is well-positioned to do this, not just because of our expertise in pharmacy, but because of our already-existing service and outreach efforts in Milwaukee. We saw an opportunity to provide a valuable learning opportunity for Concordia students while helping fill a need for Milwaukee-area youth.”

The success of the state’s Youth Apprenticeship program

Backed by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), Youth Apprenticeship (YA) is a statewide vocational training initiative that allows teens to begin earning paid, hands-on work experience in a chosen career field while still in high school. Each year, upwards of 8,000 youth from various consortiums throughout Wisconsin participate in YA, choosing from nearly 80 pathways within 13 career areas, such as finance, manufacturing, information technology, and health science.

While Pickart and Lokken intend to support the growth of YA pharmacy technician pathways in Milwaukee this year, it is hoped this experience will provide further insight into eventually expanding pharmacy technician YA opportunities statewide. In Milwaukee County alone, there are more than 8,000 juniors and seniors in high school who would be eligible to participate, says Pickart. Last year, YA piloted four new pathways and, since September 2023, approximately 413 students and 326 employers have signed up for the inaugural year, according to a state press release.

Students who participate in a pathway are more likely to continue forward with the career, according to DWD data. Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced the state’s Registered Apprenticeship program achieved a record 16,384 enrolled apprentices, an all-time high for the program’s 112-year history.

Pharmacy technician shortages

The need for more pharmacy technicians is prevalent throughout Wisconsin, but it is especially acute in Milwaukee County, said CUW Dean of Pharmacy Erik Jorvig, PhD.

“Urban Milwaukee is a highly underserved area in the state in terms of pharmacy access,” said CUW Dean of Pharmacy Erik Jorvig, PhD. “We know that if you train youth from an area where worker shortages exist, they’re more likely to return to their home city and serve their community through their pharmacy vocation.”

Pickart and Lokken have already started to involve CUW pharmacy students in the project, and efforts will pick up again in the fall. Students will play a role in designing the YA pathway curriculum. They may also serve as mentors to students, and, when possible, provide educational instruction and build awareness of the new program. Thanks to the NACDS grant, CUW students will have the opportunity to receive a stipend for their participation.

“This is a path toward helping address the needs of underserved youth and their families, while presenting our own CUW students with valuable learning opportunities,” said Pickart. “It provides the training grounds for them to become more competent professionals, ultimately.”

Want in?

Concordia University Wisconsin’s School of Pharmacy is one of only three PharmD offerings in Wisconsin, and Concordia is the only private Christian university in the state to host a pharmacy school. CUWSOP graduates routinely earn high pass rates on national certifying exams, with last year’s cohort earning the second-highest NAPLEX pass rate in the region