According to Roanoke County Public Schools, the school system is building upon the success of an apprenticeship pilot program with the Western Virginia Water Authority (WVWA) with 20 additional Roanoke County students signing as Student Registered Apprentices with five different companies at a ceremony on May 24.
Andrew Manor from William Byrd High School is one of those students, signing with Wabtec Graham White, joining John Gamble, who will be a second-year apprentice in the fall with the WVWA during his senior year at William Byrd.
Students begin the Registered Apprenticeship program as juniors, working as paid employees to earn key industry certifications that will help them develop skills and gain experience as they progress towards potentially high-wage careers with their partner business.
Companies currently participating in the Student Registered Apprenticeship Program are:
- Western Virginia Water Authority (six new apprentices and four second-year apprentices)
- G&H Contracting (six apprentices)
- Wabtec–Graham White (four apprentices)
- Southern Trust Home Services (three apprentices)
- Balzer & Associates (two apprentices)
The Student Registered Apprenticeship Program is about more than just providing advanced instruction and opportunities for students; it’s a means to help companies find skilled workers to replace those who have retired– a problem many businesses across the nation are struggling to address.
“For several years, we’ve heard from countless businesses and organizations that have expressed their frustrations when it comes to finding skilled workers,” said Roanoke County School Superintendent Dr. Greg Killough at the ceremony. “Businesses are losing some of their most experienced workers due to retirement, yet there are not many young people who are available to take those jobs.”
What makes the Student Registered Apprenticeship Program so beneficial is the flexibility it offers to both the schools and the partner business. Students are able to enter into the workforce in small numbers where they are needed. The schools could not afford to train such small “pockets” of industry-specific content in a financially feasible way.
For the partner business, students begin learning about the company, and begin to develop related skills, years earlier than if the student waited until they graduated from high school or college. More importantly, the students begin to develop a relationship with the partner business that potentially leads to a long-term, high-wage career.
“Today we are doing much more than just recognizing students who are starting a job,” said Killough. “Today, we are recognizing and congratulating students who are beginning advanced instruction and career development with their partner business.
“This is a very exciting day and one that I have been looking forward to for some time,” he continued. “It took a tremendous amount of hard work to get to the point where these students are sitting here ready to become student registered apprentices. I’d like to thank our Career and Technical Education staff, the Roanoke County Office of Economic Development, our parents and our partner businesses for coming together to provide these outstanding opportunities for our students.”
WBHS student John Gamble said he had no idea what he was going to do after he graduated from high school, but when he heard about the Student Registered Apprenticeship Program, he thought it was something to check out.
“I really didn’t know what it was, but then I told my family, and they told me I need to take it, so I jumped on it,” Gamble said. “I never really knew what happened (at the Water Authority), but now walking in here, working in the filter building and head works and knowing how everything works, it’s really exciting and cool to know what and how clean water and sewage water gets clean. It’s really exciting to know you have just begun a program that’s going to be several years long.”
Now Gamble is well on his way toward a career. By the time his apprenticeship ends, he will earn two nationally recognized credentials– a Class 4 Water Operation license and a Class 4 Wastewater Operations license– and will be ready to take on a high-wage career with the WVWA.
Gamble understands first-hand the importance of this program to companies like the Water Authority, where “a lot (of workers) are retiring and they need new young workers, so that’s why they are getting us to come in and fill in their spots. That’s what we’re trying-– to go forward and that’s what I’m going to be doing.”