Project Lead The Way Launches Engineering Youth Apprenticeship Pilot with Two Pathways

The US Department of Labor and the non-profit, Project Lead The Way (PLTW), have partnered to launch a pilot youth apprenticeship program in engineering. Kicking off this fall in Charleston, SC, the pilot offers two pathways to meet the needs of students with different career goals.

One pathway is referred to as an Engineering Assistant program and is geared toward students who plan to ultimately pursue a four-year engineering degree. The other pathway is referred to as an Engineering Technician program, which is designed for students who prefer an apprenticeship experience that is more hands-on and have the goal to get an associate degree and start their career earlier.

“This pilot program is designed to reach multiple types of students who have different interests,” said Glade Montgomery, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff at Project Lead The Way. “And, we created on-ramps and off-ramps for kids. Someone may complete the Engineering Technician apprenticeship, begin working, and then realize that they do have aspirations to go on to study engineering. This model offers those opportunities.”

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a nonprofit organization that provides experiential learning experiences and curricula for K-12 students and teachers. The group helps students develop in-demand, transportable skills through exploration of real-world challenges. They offer pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. They also provide teachers with training, resources, and support. Approximately 11,500 elementary, middle, and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia offer PLTW programs.

“The pilot engineering youth apprenticeship program will offer high school students the opportunity to work as apprentices for participating employers, combining their Project Lead The Way engineering classroom instruction with college curriculum and mentored on-the-job training. This is a win/win opportunity for both students and employers,” said Dr. Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College.

Students in both of the available pathways begin their high school careers by taking the same PLTW courses in their freshman and sophomore years, such as Introduction to Engineering Design and Principles of Engineering. As they advance in high school, students in the Engineering Technician pathway might take courses such as Fundamentals of CAD and Introduction to the Computer Environment. Students in the Engineering Assistant pathway are in what’s called a two-plus-two pathway. This refers to the fact that they first complete a two-year degree that can later be built upon with two more years of education to earn a four-year degree. They will take courses like PLTW’s Civil Engineering and Architecture, Aerospace Engineering, and Digital Electronics in their junior and senior years of high school. In addition, these students take higher-level math and science courses like AP Calculus, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry, preparing them for their transition to a four-year university program following their apprenticeship.

Charleston was selected for the pilot for three reasons. First, the area already had a significant youth apprenticeship program in place. The school districts partner with Trident Technical College for the related education and instruction for all of their youth apprenticeship programs in Charleston.

“They already have a great partnership,” said Montgomery. “They have people at Trident Technical College who reach out to local businesses and industries to promote all the types of apprenticeships they have.”

Trident Technical College is a public two-year community college. It serves approximately 13,000 curriculum students and also offers continuing education courses, customized training for business, industry and government, and a variety of employment training programs.

The second factor leading to the city’s selection was the fact that their regional youth apprenticeship program is very well supported by their local chamber of commerce.

“One thing that the Charleston Chamber does that is unlike any other place we have found is they financially support the apprentices’ related educational expenses,” said Montgomery. “If there is tuition at the technical college or books or supplies, the local businesses in Charleston provide financial support for those youth through the chamber.”

The third factor was that PLTW was already well embedded with the school districts in the city, of which there are three large districts with multiple high schools in each.

“For this new engineering apprenticeship program, we knew Charleston would offer a wealth of potential students to fill these apprenticeship roles,” said Montgomery.

Amy Firestone at the USDOL worked with PLTW to launch this new youth apprenticeship in engineering. Together the groups reached out to area businesses and to industry leaders and facilitated conversations involving the schools. They gained consensus on workforce needs and then helped move the process along by identifying and screening student candidates.

In South Carolina, youth apprenticeship programs have to be registered apprenticeships. Characteristics of these programs include:

  • Apprentices are paid for their on-the-job work experience beginning day one.
  • There is a required number of work hours (usually 2,000 hours) and competencies that have to be completed over one or two years.
  • There is related educational experience that accompanies the work experience. Often a community college provides instruction to the apprentices who apply this toward a two-year degree. This can often be further articulated toward a four-year degree.
  • Mentorship is provided to the apprentices through the employer.

Participating employers in this national pilot will include Boeing, Robert Bosch, Charleston County, Mobile Communications, and Thomas and Hutton, which have committed to hiring and mentoring high school-aged apprentices as engineering assistants.