Over the next several weeks, dozens of local teens as young as 16 will start working at some of the Charleston region’s most sought-after employers. They’ll also get paid for it, earn high school credits and take college courses for free.
At 71 participants, this year’s Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeship cohort is the largest yet, said Melissa Stowasser, the assistant vice president of community partnerships at Trident Technical College.
The program, which pairs high school students in the tri-county area with employers for two years of on-the-job experience, has been growing every year since it launched in 2014, both in the number of apprentices and partner companies.
In its first year, the program had just six partner companies, 13 participating students and one career pathway. This year, about 125 student apprentices total are enrolled, between first- and second-year participants.
About 160 companies have also joined the program over its six years, though not all participating employers take on new apprentices during each cycle, Stowasser said.
The apprenticeships have also expanded to cover nine different job pathways, including automotive, hotel operations, HVAC, culinary arts and pre-nursing.
This cycle, 43 different employers took on youth apprentices, ranging from large companies such as Boeing Co. and Robert Bosch to health providers like Trident Health and Roper St. Francis and hospitality businesses like Lowcountry Hotels and Wild Dunes Resort.
Participating students, who are rising high school juniors and seniors, receive two years of paid employment and mentoring from the employer. In addition to a high school diploma, they also earn a full year of college credit from Trident Technical College and national credentials from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Creighton Shingler, a 17-year-old student at the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science, will be starting an apprenticeship with the North Charleston Fire Department in a few weeks.
His mother, Monique Shingler, had learned about the apprenticeship program and encouraged him to apply.
"He's always been really driven," Monique said at a signing event Tuesday for this year's apprentices. "This is a cheaper route for him to accomplish what he wants to do."
All costs associated with the program, including tuition and books, are paid for, with no expense to the student or the participating employer.
Shingler, who wants to pursue a career in the medical field, will be working and training as an EMT. One of the main reasons he wanted to join the apprenticeship program was the promise of free college credit.
“I’m trying to not have debt from college,” he said.
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette participated in Tuesday’s signing ceremony, which was held at Trident Tech's campus in North Charleston.
Evette said she's trying to advocate for a different mindset of what successful career training and education looks like.
“It’s not always a four-year degree,” Evette said. “We need to change that narrative. These are not second choices.”
Several students who have completed the apprenticeship program shared their experiences with incoming participants. Jessica Garcia, who was in the culinary arts track and now works as a line cook at the downtown restaurant Slightly North of Broad, said she had never seriously considered cooking as a career until she learned about the apprenticeships.
“That conversation with my guidance counselor changed everything,” said Garcia, 19.
Two Trump administration officials, U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley and Deputy Assistant to the President for Technology Policy Michael Kratsios, also attended and spoke at Tuesday’s signing.
Both echoed Evette’s point that apprenticeships and technical colleges should be seen as valuable and viable steps in a career path. Though youth apprenticeship programs do lead some students to four-year universities, Kelley said, they can also open up different, sometimes debt-free opportunities.