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Apprenticeships Provide Opportunities for Students to Gain Experience, Further Education

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 14-20

As South Carolina prepares for a wave of retirements, registered apprenticeships will be a key element in ensuring that the pipeline is filled with a well-trained and knowledgeable workforce.

“There is currently a skills gap and we already see coming down the road that there will be a jobs gap because so many will be retiring. It’s going to leave a lot of skilled positions needing to be filled. There are currently not enough people in the pipeline,” said Robert Crenshaw, Area Director for ReadySC and Apprenticeship Consultant for Apprenticeship Carolina, both are programs within the South Carolina Technical College System. 

“There’s also a lot of experience that needs to be transferred down to the younger generations,” he added. “This is an opportune time for that to happen.”

The idea of apprenticeships isn’t new. Registered apprenticeship programs have been in existence since the late 1930s when U.S. Congress enacted the National Apprenticeship Act.

Formerly, the focus had been on select fields. Apprenticeship Carolina was created in 2007 with the “innovative mindset of building apprenticeship programs that stretch across virtually all occupations,” said Crenshaw.

“We deal with registered apprenticeships. A registered apprenticeship has three parts to it. There’s on the job training, job-related education, and a wage progression. So our mission is to help employers put all three of those in place to upskill their employees, their workforce.”

Apprenticeship Carolina works technical colleges in the South Carolina Technical College System to connect with employers and increase their awareness of the free resources available to them. The organization will help employers identify their needs and the occupation(s) the employer wants to apprentice. A customized training program is then designed and provided to the employer.

Apprenticeship programs are registered through the U.S. Department of Labor which enables companies to then register apprentices to go through the program.

Since 2007, there has been a significant increase in the number registered apprenticeship programs in South Carolina and there are currently more than 6,200 active apprentices in the state.

Locally, MTU America, Inc.’s Aiken Plant has had its youth apprenticeship program for a few of years and recently added an apprenticeship program that will allow apprentices to continue their education at Aiken Technical College in industrial maintenance while gaining relevant, on-the-job experience.

“For the last five years, we have had a youth apprenticeship program with high school students in the 11th and 12th grades in partnership with the Aiken County Career and Technology Center. That in itself has a bunch of advantages,” said Jeremy Diebel, Senior Manager of Machining and Aiken Apprenticeship Coordinator with MTU’s Aiken Plant.

The youth are paid while they work, receive hands-on experience, and gain soft skills such as learning how to work with others. Upon graduating from high school, the youth receive their high school diploma and documents indicating their work readiness and recognizing their completion of an apprenticeship program.

“We have hired a few. We have a few that have gone to BAE, Bridgestone, other companies. They are finding employment right out of high school. These are good jobs making good money. But, we found that for some of the apprentices graduating from our youth apprenticeship program, we didn’t have avenues to support their continued growth in a field they really wanted to be in,” said Diebel, noting that industrial maintenance has been a common area of interest for several apprentices.

Earlier this year, Apprenticeship Carolina met with representatives from area companies, including MTU’s Aiken Plant, to discuss the development of registered apprenticeship programs through the South Carolina Apprenticeship Initiative.

South Carolina’s technical colleges, such as Aiken Technical College, provide the technical education component of the registered apprenticeship.

The initiative opened the door for MTU’s Aiken Plant to offer youth apprentices a pathway that will allow them further their education after high school graduation and receive an associate’s degree from Aiken Technical College while continuing to build their work experience.

“The advantage to us is that industrial maintenance is a really an area of our business, that when we look at resumes, we look for experience—also education, but experience is a big part of that. So by these students having years of experience already and that experience in our company learning from us…they would be the perfect fit these openings that we have. We also feel they would be the perfect fit for a lot of the other companies as well,” said Diebel.

Christian Lopez is among those who decided to participate in the registered apprenticeship program at the MTU Aiken Plant. The 2016 graduate of Silver Bluff High School spent his last two years of high school in the company’s youth apprenticeship program and is now enrolled in the industrial maintenance program at Aiken Technical College.

“It was a good opportunity for me to get ahead of everyone else in experience,” he said. “Not many people get the opportunity to work and go to school at the same time. I hope to learn a lot more by getting more hands-on, real life experience.”

It will also help connect what he’s learning in the classroom to how it is actually applied in the workplace, he added.

Participants in the registered apprenticeship program are exposed to several different areas, said Rob Rehnlund, Senior Manager for Facilities Manager at MTU’s Aiken Plant.

The students shadow subject-matter experts to observe tasks and then they perform the tasks as the subject-matter expert coaches them.

“So when they graduate with the industrial maintenance degree, they will be pretty well rounded and able to in work in a lot of different areas in maintenance,” he said.

Having a mentor in each of the areas adds to the learning experience, said Lopez who hopes to become fully hired by MTU upon graduating with his associate’s degree.
Registered apprenticeships help companies “grow their own”, said Crenshaw.

“We really want this re-emerging idea of apprenticeships to become normalized. In other words, everyone coming together to create those customized training pathways called registered apprenticeships for youth as well as adults,” he said.

Apprenticeships create a positive momentum for all, said Diebel.

“There are very few things you find in life that are win-win-win-win for everybody, but this is one of them,” he said. “Everyone is winning in this situation. The student, the company, other companies, the College—it’s a win all the way around.”

For more information about Apprenticeship Carolina and resources available to companies, contact Crenshaw at crenshawr@sctechsystem.edu or (803) 508-7400. Information can also be found at www.apprenticeshipcarolina.com.

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