By Jennifer Brislin – JCPS Communications
Some students gear down their learning when they leave the classroom, but Saif Haqi revs his up.
That’s when the Southern High School senior, a student in the school’s Automotive Engineering Academy, heads to the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) bus garage, where, as part of his yearlong co-op, he immerses himself in the workings of a professional auto maintenance facility and shadows seasoned mechanics as they maintain the district’s vast fleet of buses.
The job earns him $10 an hour, valuable industry experience, and the opportunity to get his foot in the door with a potential employer.
“I’m learning a lot things, and I’m 70-80 percent certain I want to stay in this job. I really love it,” he said, adding that the work means more to him because “I’m basically doing something for my school.”
That’s just the reaction JCPS is hoping for.
The auto mechanic co-op is just one of 10 apprenticeship programs that JCPS will launch this year in a broad scope of fields, ranging from early childcare and graphic design to information technology and culinary arts.
In fact, “JCPS is offering registered apprenticeships in more industry sectors than any other program sponsor in Kentucky,” according to Diana Jarboe, registered apprenticeship program coordinator with the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
The apprenticeships will give students an opportunity to ‘earn as they learn,’ and offer JCPS the chance to develop and hire home-grown talent.
“The talent we’re seeing in our kids is incredible,” said Christy Rogers, JCPS assistant superintendent of transition readiness. “We have a tremendous opportunity to not only reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom with actual hands-on experience, but we can benefit by preparing our own future employees to succeed by training them in the settings they’ll be working under.”
Apprenticeships are one of the core tenets of the JCPS Academies of Louisville initiative, offering students the chance to earn money while they gain vital industry-specific experience.
The move underscores the importance of apprenticeship programs to businesses, which depend on the continued development of workers adept in increasingly technical and high-skilled fields. Employers not only gain experienced workers who are trained to industry and employer-specific quality standards; professional apprenticeship training also reduces turnover, increases productivity and lowers job training costs. Businesses across the country are highlighting the impact of apprenticeship programs as part of National Apprenticeship Week, which runs through Nov. 18.
Randy Frantz, director of transportation for JCPS, said auto mechanics are in high demand, and, with an unemployment rate around 4 percent, it’s difficult to find trained and certified mechanics.
“Hopefully, we’re producing a pipeline for future mechanics,” he said. “And at the end of the co-op, they may just decide to make a career out of being a JCPS mechanic.”
It’s a similar goal in the area of early childhood, where there’s a shortage of highly skilled, qualified educators, according to coordinator Stephanie Johnson. The apprenticeships will lessen the impact of vacancies in the district while allowing students to work with mentors and gain hands-on experience.
“Our hope is to grow our own employees and resolve our own staffing issues through the utilization of our students while they’re in high school,” she said. “And when they graduate, they’ll have the skills necessary to seek gainful employment, and maybe they’ll stay with JCPS.”
John Owen, an automotive instructor at Southern High School, said the apprenticeship opportunities bring real meaning to what students have learned in the classroom. “They’ll be working with an employer who is continually educating these kids; they’re going to grow leaps and bounds,” he said.
The pay may be what entices them, he said, but the practical experience is just as valuable. “An apprenticeship is the end of that long four-year process, where everything comes to fruition. I think it matures them a bit.”
Perhaps most significantly, the students themselves see the benefit of an apprenticeship program. “The students talk about what a great opportunity this is,” said James McCabe, the talent development academy coach at Southern. “This is a success because I know it can lead to a career job for our kids. They could literally work for JCPS if that’s what they want to do.”
JCPS apprenticeship fields include: