Apprenticeships opening doors for technical jobs

Friday, March 19, 2021 | 08:00am

This article was written by Lindsay Pride for the Herald-Citizen in Cookeville, Tennessee

Cookeville surveyor Charles Whittenburg read an article about an apprenticeship program through the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development months ago that prompted him to think about how his younger employees might benefit.

“Gov. Lee was pushing his apprenticeship program,” he said. “I reached out to them and found out that no one else (in the state) had done it for land surveying.”

Whittenburg said the apprenticeship program allows him to hire someone with no experience and train them.

“I’m going to train them in a systematic way,” he said. “They may start at $11 an hour and end up at $17 an hour."

“Nobody knows what surveying is,” he said. “My goal is to get them started at high school age.”

A week ago, three of Whittenburg’s 15 employees signed up to participate.

Anderson Schmittou, a 26-year-old U.S. Marine veteran, graduated from Tennessee Tech in December with a degree in agriculture engineering technology. Austin Hall, 23, also graduated from Tech in May with a bachelor’s degree in business management. Dylan Parrott, 22, was a Tech student from 2017 to 2020, when he decided to pursue a career in surveying.

Hall said he realized halfway through pursuing his degree that business management wasn’t for him.

“I enjoy the outdoors,” Hall said. “Land surveying suits my interests.”

Middle Tennessee Apprenticeship Director, Charlene Sands Russell said the employer pays the wage, and grants can pay for training costs.

“A lot of people talk about the aging workforce in healthcare, business, IT, manufacturing, and construction,” Russell said. “The Tennessee Association of Utility Districts estimates that 60% of the workforce is retiring in the next 10 years.

“There are thousands of occupations that can be made into apprenticeships,” she said.

Whittenburg said, “There are more jobs in trades, high paying jobs.”

Other companies in Putnam County also participate in the apprenticeship program including CHC Mechanical Contractors, D&D Enterprises, Lakeland Electric, Flowserve, Apcom, Inc., and Multi Computer Products, Inc.

In 2020, 2,151 people signed up for apprenticeships in Tennessee, and 7,019 people are working as apprentices in 388 programs, according to ApprenticeshipTN.

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