New York Times cites local apprenticeship model

December 3, 2013

As Jordan Dunbar learned more about the partnership of Tognum America and the Aiken County Career Center during the past year, “the more I realized it’s an amazing opportunity. I couldn’t pass it up.”

Less than four months into an apprenticeship program at the center, Dunbar has found himself in a video news clip on The New York Times website, along with other Career Center students. A related article also appeared with it in the Times online on Saturday.

For the second year, Tognum – a diesel engine manufacturer – is collaborating with the Career Center and the Aiken County School District on a program that is virtually unique in the United States.

“We’re offering registered apprenticeships for students still in high school and (who) haven’t reached the age of 18,” said Brooks Smith, the Career Center director. “Most other apprentice programs are for those who have finished high school.”

Tognum, a German company, relies on that concept to help train younger teenagers in Germany, said Joerg Klisch, vice president of North American operations. Nothing like it has existed in the U.S., and Tognum wanted to bring its own program to America, he said.

Nine students are splitting their time between the plant and the Career Center, both in the Graniteville area.

The initiative already had received national exposure from longtime CBS newcaster Dan Rather through AXS Cable TV. Klisch said this latest venture emerged when a Times journalist learned about the Aiken-based program through S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s office.

“We feel very honored that we’re drawing so much attention,” Klisch said. “We’re convinced the program is working and that the students are very engaged. We’re looking forward to when the first students graduate next year. They will have the opportunity to make a choice about coming to work for us after high school or college or do something else.”

Klisch and Smith agree the apprenticeship concept is a new and promising strategy that other companies should embrace. Another manufacturer in Charleston is expressing interest.

Smith hopes more interest can emerge in Aiken County. His facility already has students participating in excellent internships with several companies, he said. This would be the next step.

“We’re hoping more will come on board and see the value of partnering with the public schools to help prepare a new workforce,” he said. “We feel that we’ve got the capability of modifying and customizing the learning and the specific skills we can provide.”

Those interviewed for The Times video segment included Dunbar and students Jacob Dyer, Tyler Temples and Nigeria Williams, and machine tools instructor Quintin Cooks. The other instructors are Bob Molkenthin with CADD and Stan Johnson with megatronics.

“It’s so nice to learn all these different skills,” Dunbar said. “It’s impressive how everything (at Tognum) is larger and on a higher scale. I didn’t expect the engines to come in at that size, and we’ll be able to help create them.”

The Times article and the video can be found at tinyurl.com/ACCC-vid.

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