Apprenticeships pay off for Goose Creek High grads

Shannon Brennan and Jason McCallum work in the training room of Cummins Turbo Technologies. The teens have received job offers from Cummins after participating in the Youth Apprenticeship Program offered through the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and Trident Technical College.

At just 18 years old, Shannon Brennan and Jason McCallum walked out of high school and into full-time jobs as technicians at Cummins Turbo Technologies paying $16.65 an hour, or about $34,000 a year.

It’s an opportunity some heavily indebted college graduates facing an uncertain job market in their fields would envy, especially since the positions come with health insurance, a retirement plan and an option to receive tuition reimbursement to continue their education.

The two newly minted Goose Creek High School graduates earned the jobs maintaining and repairing equipment at the Ladson manufacturer of turbo chargers for trucks through an apprenticeship offered through a regional partnership that includes the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Trident Technical College, industries and area high schools.

The program, which enrolled a second class of 40 students on Tuesday, pairs high school students with businesses where they get paid on-the-job training while taking relevant courses at Trident Tech. The two-year program primarily serves juniors and seniors, with students who enroll in the 12th grade able to continue in the program after high school at the discretion of the company.

The apprenticeship program is one of several efforts launched in recent years between the chamber, Trident Tech and area businesses as a way to create a local pool of skilled talent to meet regional workforce demands in certain industries including manufacturing, information technology and hospitality.

Brennan’s and McCallum’s success is reassuring to chamber executives and Trident officials who feel it’s a good sign that they’re making headway in bridging employment gaps.

“We know we’re on the right track,” said Robin Willis, who coordinates the chamber’s career academies program.

“It’s working,” said Melissa Stowasser, director of high school programs at Trident Tech.

Brennan and McCallum were among the first group of 13 students to sign up last year for the program. The newly hired Cummins employees will continue with the second year of the apprenticeship’s Trident Tech courses while working.

Cummins hired another four apprentices Tuesday, including Tyler Hegeman, who is a rising senior at Cane Bay High School. The Summerville teen was thrilled for the opportunity, saying he likes “doing hands-on kind of work.” And Hegeman is excited about the prospect of getting a good job right out of high school.

“It feels pretty good, promising because I know I can do it,” he said.

Phillip Botero, maintenance and facility leader at Cummins, said the company already had an adult apprenticeship program and that its youth program is an extension of that. Students go through extensive training at Cummins before doing rotations to learn each area of the 600-employee plant.

“It’s about tapping into local talent,” said Cummins’ human resources manager Jenny Monday.

Brennan’s and McCallum’s comfortable salary right out of high school trumps conventional wisdom that young adults without a bachelor’s degree can’t make a decent living. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Goose Creek teens will make about $4,000 more than the median annual earnings of a high school graduate. And their pay is about the same as a first-year teacher with a four-year degree.

And because Cummins offers tuition assistance for its employees to continue their education, both teens could end up avoiding hefty loans that traditional college students typically face.

Both McCallum and Brennan come from hard-working families. McCallum’s dad works as a maintenance supervisor, fixing everything from air conditioners to washers and dryers. Brennan’s parents are retired from the Marine Corps. Her father now is a sergeant with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and her mother is working as a substitute teacher while earning her teaching degree.

Kathey Brennan said that while Shannon is the youngest of her three children, she is the most prepared for life after high school. The Goose Creek mother said that with her job at Cummins her daughter will avoid the sizeable student loans like she’s facing to launch her second career. And she’s making nearly double what her mother does as a substitute teacher.

“She’s making more money than I am,” Kathey Brennan said with a laugh. “I’m so pleased.”

Brennan and McCallum credit their mechatronics teacher Don Blair for encouraging them to apply for the program.

“I knew that if I could put some of my top students in there, they would have a chance to excel,” Blair said.

McCallum said if he hadn’t been offered a job at Cummins he would have pursued a career as an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force. But Brennan said her future was less clear.

“If this program didn’t come up, I’m not too sure I would have known what I wanted to do,” Brennan said.

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or on Twitter at @PCAmandaKerr.