James Daniel was envisioning a career in engineering during a recent tour of the Hubner Manufacturing Corp. plant in Mount Pleasant.

At a glance

What: Youth Apprenticeship Program in Manufacturing.

How: The two-year program includes high school and college courses while students work alongside employees at manufacturing companies.

What's next: Trident Tech plans to expand the apprenticeship program next year to other sectors, including machining and information technology.

Contact: Students may contact TTC's director of high school programs, Melissa Stowasser, at 574-6312.

Employers interested in taking students and teaching them are encouraged to Trident Tech's apprenticeship program coordinator Mitchell Harp at 574-6979.

And later this summer, the 15-year-old can get started on that dream when he begins working alongside employees at the company, which produces items like jet gangway canopies.

"I'll get to learn a lot of new things and learn new skills in manufacturing that I didn't know before," he said. "This will also give an overall experience with other employees and a real business."

James is concentrating on material engineering at West Ashley High School and is among the 11 juniors and seniors from six Lowcountry high schools that make up the inaugural class of the Youth Apprenticeship Program in Manufacturing. The program is a collaboration with Trident Technical College and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Organizers recently announced the program as a way to create a local pool of skilled talent for manufacturers in the tri-county region.

Trident Technical College President Mary Thornley said the program will offer a competitive edge for the region. It's an extension of apprenticeships the two-year college has been offering to adults since 2007.

"This is the manufacturers' way to educate kids more than just with job shadowing," said Mitchell Harp, the college's director of apprenticeship programs.

Trident Tech officials say the youth program arms local high school students with the skills to be competitive for local jobs.

"It's the next phase of what the area needs to develop a skilled workforce for all these manufacturers coming to the area," Harp said. "It's an alternative way for employers to find the skilled workers. The older generations are retiring and the younger generations don't choose these occupations, and part of that reason is they don't know about them."

Students are paid $10 an hour by the employer and the Charleston Metro Chamber is paying the roughly $3,500 tuition and cost of books for each participant, officials said.

A skilled workforce

Mary Graham, senior vice president of business advocacy at the chamber, said the program will closely mirror Alamo Academies, an apprenticeship program in the San Antonio region that was formed years ago to let area employers pass on work skills to youths.

"We just kept hearing how those kids have gone on to work for those companies and they had good jobs," she said.

The Charleston area students will work as paid industrial mechanic apprentices at Robert Bosch, Detyens Shipyards, Hubner Manufacturing, IFA Rotorion and VTL Group starting in August.

In addition, the participants will take high school classes in the morning and Trident Tech's industrial mechanics courses for dual credit in the afternoon two times each week. They will also receive paid on-the-job training through mentored employment throughout the year.

At the end of the two-year program, students will have earned a high school diploma, an Industrial Mechanics certificate from Trident Tech, a journeyman credential from the U.S. Department of Labor, and two years of paid work experience.

Announcement of the program comes on the heels of the chamber releasing a report saying the area is expected to gain 25,000 new jobs in the next five years. The report, "Charleston Region Talent Strategy," highlights gaps between the education, skills and talent of potential employees in the region, and the needs of local businesses. The study found that there will be a greater need in education in markets such as industrial production, computer and software, science and engineering.

The report's findings increase the importance of the youth apprenticeship program, Graham said.

"We have a big need in this community and that is to create the opportunity for local students to get the skills needed to be able to get these great jobs that are being created," Graham said.

For manufacturers such as VTL Group, the apprentices offer an untapped resource.

"As the economy comes back and the businesses are moving back, there is literally a generation that is missing from manufacturing," said Jeff Teague, general manager. "You go to a manufacturing facility and take the mean age and it isn't 22 ... it's 45 and 48 and the whole generation is gone, and it's not a matter of hiring people in manufacturing. We will have to grow them, and so this is the start of that."

Louie Roberts, a human resources manager at automotive parts maker Bosch, said youth apprenticeships can fill critical employment gaps.

"We experience difficulty when we try to recruit for skilled labor in the area," he said.

Hands-on learning

For new Bosch apprentices like Michael Reynolds, a 15-year-old junior at Garrett Academy of Technology, the two years of training will help him sculpt a future.

"I want to get job experience and learn a bit more about what I want to do in life," he said.

Curtis Schall, a senior at Fort Dorchester High School, said he is looking to gain some new skills and earn his keep.

"I'm hoping I can use it to get a job in Bosch after the apprenticeship," he said.

VTL's Teague said the program also will offer a chance to help shed some stigma about manufacturing jobs, including images of dirty factories with poor working conditions.

"The floors are cleaner than a hospital ... and the machines are shiny and the people are wearing nice outfits and the pay is exceptional," Teague said. "This program will start to get the next generation interested in it."

VTL Group apprentice Walter Newman IV, a 16-year-old junior at Fort Dorchester High, has high hopes for the hands-on learning with the company, which makes precision automotive components for turbochargers.

"It's a really good program and it will give me a lot of good work experience for the future. And I'll get a head start in the workforce," he said.

As for James Daniel, the apprentice at Hubner Manufacturing, he said it's important to build on his concentration in material engineering.

"If they offer me a job after this program is finished, that would be good to work for them, but (I) should also be able to use them as a reference and that will be great," he said.