Skip To Main Content

Grad Hunter Johnson

Finding Your Passion Right Out of High School

Career Pathways Program an Opportunity to Match Students with a Career


Hunter Johnson will walk and graduate with the rest of his class in June, but his first step toward his career started last year when he was a junior. 

Johnson is in a young apprenticeship program, a school-to-career program where he’s been training in the industrial Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning industry since June 2021. Though he’s always been interested in working with his hands, he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do until a chance run-in with substitute teacher Marta Ahler in a food sciences class.

“Mrs. Ahler asked me: ‘What is your plan after high school?’” Johnson said. She told him about her husband, who works for Lee Mechanical, an HVAC company, and how they were looking for new employees. “She said: ‘Here’s his number if you want an opportunity, give him a call,’” Johnson recalled. “We set up an interview, I got the job, and started June first.” 

Johnson is still a South Milwaukee student. He spent the first half of the 2021-22 school year getting up early and going to work on the job site, where he earned one credit, then at 11 a.m. he got to school for a gym class, and two English classes he still had to take. Now he works the apprenticeship full time while he waits to graduate. 

“All around a great job, a great experience,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying college is bad or anything, it just wasn’t for me.” 

At one time, college was seen as the goal for every student. Johnson is an example of a growing change in perspective in career education. Employers are looking for specific skills in employees, not necessarily a four-year degree. South Milwaukee’s tech education program has aligned to meet those employers’ needs. 

In February, the school earned Regional Career Pathways Certification from the Cooperative Educational Service Agencies or CESA. The certification means the high school has knitted together a series of courses for students that earn them industry-recognized credentials, dual credit courses with colleges, career-and-work-based experiences, and Career and Technical Student Organizations. Students who study Advanced Manufacturing, Architecture and Construction, Finance, and Patient Care can and will find meaningful careers in those fields right out of high school. 

That doesn’t mean they won’t need more education, though. After this summer, Johnson goes right back into the classroom several days a week to learn more about his trade. “I’ll be learning about rigging, welding, and more math and science,” Johnson said. “High school, for sure, has been great. I enjoyed every day. (But) I’m happy I found a career a little earlier than others. It’s fantastic.”