Real-world Experience Helps Modern Youth Apprentice Find her True Passion

Maddie Simmerman, a 17-year-old student at Bedford North Lawrence High School, thought she liked engineering after taking a class in school, but not until she joined the UpSkill Work & Learn modern youth apprenticeship program did she realize that this is now her life’s passion and career path. Maddie found that passion when she became a manufacturing apprentice with PRD, Inc., an injection molding advanced manufacturing company specializing in automotive parts, particularly custom LED headlights and taillights for cars, in the Indiana Uplands region.

“I didn’t really know how I was going to connect engineering to a job until I got here and got real-world experience in the workplace,” said Maddie.

She joins 60 modern youth apprentices at 25 employers in the UpSkill program established by Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI) and supported by Ascend Indiana. The program offers high school students a 2–3-year paid work-based learning experience where students earn career credentials and college credits.

One of Maddie’s teachers recommended her for the apprenticeship program after hearing about UpSkill. In her manufacturing apprentice role at PRD, Maddie uses many skills – everything from creative thinking to coding. “I like how you can use your creativity. If someone needs something for a particular thing, you can help create the design based on the information they have given you. I have been allowed to make some of my own codes with the Arduino, an electronic circuit simulator, that a lot of engineering students use to get the feel of coding.”

Mark Murphy, president of PRD, Inc., has been impressed by Maddie’s work. “She has completed all of the modules for a plastics certification training that we put her through, and she was able to just blow right through it. That’s pretty impressive for somebody who has no plastics knowledge or background,” said Murphy.

Indiana is the most manufacturing intensive state and has the highest concentration of manufacturing employment in the nation with a workforce of nearly 544,000 workers at more than 9,450 establishments. Women make up 30% of the manufacturing and logistics industries. Murphy would like to get more women in the field. “I was thrilled that our apprentice was a female because in manufacturing we have this façade that this is a guy’s thing. On Manufacturing Day, we tell the girls that we need you in this industry, so we were thrilled when we got Maddie.”

Maddie says she has learned a lot while on the job but says it has taught her a few things about herself, too. “As long as I don’t give up and I just keep pushing to figure out what needs to be done, I will eventually get to a point where I am satisfied or complete the task. There have definitely been times I have taken the harder way but that is how I have learned.”

Maddie is appreciative that managers and employees take time to share what they are doing to help her understand how to do the job, which gives her the on-the-job training she wouldn’t get in a classroom. She said her manager is also open to her ideas and lets her try them out.

She offers some advice for fellow students who might not know about the benefits of a modern youth apprenticeship. “Why would you not go for something like this? It’s going to benefit you in the long run, you are getting experience in a career that you think you have interest in, and an experience like this will definitely help you figure out if you like it or not.”

When Maddie graduates from high school, she plans to study engineering at either Purdue University or Indiana State University. Murphy hopes that Maddie will consider coming back to work at PRD when she graduates.

If you are a student or employer in the Indiana Uplands region interested in the UpSkill Work & Learn program, visit