Breanna Scoggins will be the first Howard High School student to start a welding apprenticeship at Southern Spear Ironworks next week, but she won't be the last, said Sean Compton, who founded the business five years ago.
"There's not enough people doing the technical training," said Compton, who launched the business from his garage five years ago. "We want to get these kids a good skill."
Compton, who owns three other related businesses in addition to Southern Spear Ironworks, approached the school system about a partnership with Howard High School a little more than a year ago. In addition to providing the trained workforce he needs to grow his thriving business, the program is an important community outreach, Compton said.
"My parents were public school teachers," he said. "This is near to my heart."
Scoggins will soon begin dividing her time between her studies as a senior at Howard and her work as an apprentice welder at Southern Spear. Once she graduates high school this spring, she'll transition directly into the apprenticeship program at Chattanooga State, where she'll be a full-time student in addition to a full-time employee of Southern Spear.
Zena Buckley, Hamilton County Schools Future Ready coordinator, said Southern Spear brought the idea to the school system, and they worked together to make it happen.
"We want to create a work-based learning pipeline for students," she said.
Scoggins has taken welding at Howard since ninth grade as part of the school's Future Ready Institute of Robotics and Welding.
"Ms. Buckley and my (welding) teacher (Garry) Elrod wanted an opportunity for kids to find a career and do what they want," Scoggins said. "They wanted to help me find out what I wanted to do."
She has always enjoyed art and drawing, and wanted to pursue a creative career, but she also wanted work she could rely on to support her, Scoggins said.
"I really like welding because you can make anything," she said. "It's a kind of art."
Since Compton launched Southern Spear in his garage, the company has boomed and spawned multiple related businesses. Among the projects the ironworks outfit is tackling are jobs for NASA, Lockheed-Martin and a multi-year project to rebuild the largest Antarctic station for the U.S. government.
He launched his business after working as an executive for local general contractors and seeing a need in the market for high-quality steel subcontractors, he said. His philosophy of hiring has been to "find good people and teach them the right way," he said. The world of steel fabrication has become a high-tech place, he added.
"Half of fabrication is done using computers and machines," Compton said. "This next generation needs to be computer and tech-savvy."
Southern Spear has about 85 employees, and could hire 10 more today if it had qualified applicants, Compton said.
Paul Parrish, who will be Scoggins' supervisor, said she'll start by spending time with the quality assurance experts in the company, and ultimately make the rounds learning about all the other aspects of the business.
'We'll get her certified in welding here," he said.
The onset of COVID-19 slowed down her hands-on classroom training, and Scoggins is looking forward to getting back to work, she said.
"When I start working here, I'll be making stuff in the real world, stuff people will use," she said. "That's very exciting."
Pam Gitta, apprenticeship manager for Chattanooga State Community College, said the program is one of eight apprenticeship programs the school offers, with a ninth launching in two weeks in pattern making. That program is in partnership with Mueller Water Products, she said.
"We create the programs the employers tell us they need," Gitta said.
Contact Mary Fortune at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.
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