Hamilton County Schools' program at Gestamp earns federal apprenticeship designation

Javontae Jones, a senior from Central High School, works on the production floor at Gestamp. Gestamp and Hamilton County Schools joint work-based learning program recently earned a U.S. Department of Labor designation as a registered apprenticeship. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Schools. Contributed Photo / Times Free Press

Hamilton County Schools' Gestamp program is the first work-based learning program in Tennessee to earn a U.S. Department of Labor registered apprenticeship designation.

The Gestamp program in advanced manufacturing was launched in 2016. It allows Hamilton County high school students to get a full day of work-based learning experience while completing their education.

Students take online academic classes at Gestamp as well as complete actual work experience. The program also pays students for their work - teens begin the program making $9 an hour.

"Gestamp has been amazing to partner with on this journey to provide students with practical work experience in a high demand field," said Heidi King, the Gestamp work-based learning coordinator for Hamilton County Schools, in a statement. "The registered apprenticeship takes the value of the program for our students to the next level by allowing graduates to add a recognized industry credential to their resume."

To qualify as a registered apprenticeship training, a program must meet national standards for registration with the U.S. Department of Labor, and the training must result in the student earning an industry-recognized credential. Students are exposed to on-the-job learning with job-related technical instruction and experience at the work site, and must earn pay during the training.

"I think we have a responsibility as a community and business leaders to make sure that kids are successful in life not only in education but also in a career," said Mandy Bohannon, the work-based learning coordinator for Gestamp, in a statement. "Successful students in the program have the opportunity to become full-time employees with benefits and take advantage of our tuition reimbursement if they decide to go to college."

The Gestamp program was one of the first more recent local pushes toward vocational and work-based education. Nationally, school districts are grappling with how to prepare students for future success as well as increase student achievement.

Many school districts have turned to career academics and other industry-themed programs, such as Hamilton County Schools' Future Ready Institutes, for this very reason.

Devin Jones, a junior from Central High School, plans to graduate early with the help of the flexibility of the Gestamp program.

"I love this program because it is different," Jones said in a statement. "We have all of our classes online so we can work at our own pace in completing our work. I am looking forward to getting started on my career."

Students can participate in the program for two years, earning $9 an hour. Upon completion of the apprentice requirements, students earn $14 an hour. Throughout the program, participants learn machine setup and operation, how to recognize and repair malfunctioning machines, inspect and perform quality checks, clean and perform audits, and cross-train.