By Ashley Barker
Published June 25, 2014
To grow the next generation of manufacturing workers, five local companies have agreed to mentor and hire 11 high school students for the next two years.
Students from Garrett Academy of Technology, Fort Dorchester High, Wando High, West Ashley High, Goose Creek High and Stall High will work 2,000 hours as paid industrial mechanic apprentices at Bosch, Detyens Shipyards, Hubner Manufacturing, IFA Rotorion and VTL Group.
They’ll continue taking high school classes in the mornings and will complete Trident Technical College industrial mechanics courses for dual credit in the afternoon twice a week. The students will also receive on-the-job training up to two hours a day during the school year and up to 40 hours a week during the summers.
Once the two-year apprenticeship is complete, they will have earned a high school diploma, an industrial mechanics certificate from Trident Tech and a journeyman credential from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Trident Tech President Mary Thornley said the Lowcountry’s first youth apprenticeship program is a win for individuals, employers, the economy, the community and the schools.
“There are good paying jobs, and they’re going unfilled while we have young people that remain unemployed or, what is equally bad, underemployed,” Thornley said.
Fort Dorchester High School student Walter Newman will become the first youth apprentice for Ladson-based VTL Group, a turbocharger production facility for light and industrial commercial vehicles.
“Walter came in, and he stood out. We saw potential in him,” said Yarkona Stanley, a human resources generalist at VTL. “Walter actually is already very hands on.”
Stanley said Walter’s experience in his father’s garage, learning to weld and do woodwork, put him a step ahead of the other students.
“We bought our house, and the upstairs wasn’t finished,” Walter said. “We put in the sheetrock, the walls and made our own molding.”
A guidance counselor told Walter, a rising 11th-grader, about the program and suggested he apply.
“They asked me some questions: What do I like to do? Where I’m from, and they gave me a tour of the plant,” he said. “It’s a really good company, it gives me a lot of good experience for when I work, and it gives me a good head start.”
Walter’s apprenticeship will cover pneumatics, hydraulics, general machine maintenance and design, according to VTL general manager Jeff Teague.
“He’ll cover a broad spectrum of categories. The first one is how to be safe in a manufacturing environment. It will be a combination of online courses that we use and on-the-job training,” Teague said.
VTL signed on for the program because there is a skills gap in the manufacturing industry that needs to be filled, Teague said.
“As United States manufacturing continues to grow, we recognize the ability to hire is not there. This is the first step in doing that,” Teague said. “We’re very proud to have Walter and be able to start this in the Lowcountry. We need to start that next generation of people who want to be in manufacturing.”
Walter and the other 10 students in the apprenticeship program received scholarships worth about $3,500 from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. The scholarships will cover four semesters of tuition and books at Trident Tech, said Melissa Stowasser, Trident Tech’s director of high school programs. The companies will pay for their wages, which start at $10 an hour.
“Apprenticeship programs have to have a scalable wage. So as they learn, they’ll earn more. They’ll end up make $11 an hour at the end of the two years,” she said.
Walter plans to save his money so he can purchase an Xbox One entertainment system, which costs about $400.
He smiled when Teague said “you’re going to have put in some hours for that.”
Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.