It was signing day recently for a couple of Pickens County students. They didn’t sign to play any kind of sport, but to work as youth apprentices at Champion Aerospace in Liberty. The apprenticeship program will combine on-the-job learning and job-related education.
Jason Marlin, president of Champion Aerospace, said he started his career as an intern and the company ended up hiring him.
“And the rest is history for me,” he said during the signing event. “This is ground where you get to test us and see if this is a place where you want to work and it’s our opportunity to test you as young talent in the market.”
Three students have signed on as youth apprentices at Champion Aerospace — Trenton Riddle, Steven Chappell and Breanna Cathcart.
Riddle, a student at Pickens High School, is joining Champion’s materials and logistics team.
“In everything we do we are limited by the supply chain we manage,” Marlin said. “We’re only as good as our worst supplier, so materials at the end of the day is a critical area for our business.”
Chappell, a student at Easley High School, is joining Champion’s welding department, Marlin said.
“A lot of our products go through the welding department. We continue to invest in new technology in welding, but a lot of what we do is material joining technology and welding is a big piece of that. What we do is very custom and specific,” Marlin said.
Breanna Cathcart, a student at Easley High School, will work in supply chain management at Champion. Cathcart was unable to attend the signing event.
“Today is the beginning of something that will be larger and even better, I think, in the future in the apprenticeship program here at Champion Aerospace,” Marlin said. “We’ve worked for a long time with the colleges and tech schools like Clemson, Greenville Tech and Tri-County Tech. We’ve now moved that to the next level to start developing the future talent for our company at a younger age, and this signing day today kind of represents the beginning of that process.”
The apprenticeship program at Champion Aerospace is registered with Apprenticeship Carolina and the U.S. Department of Labor. A registered program shows an employer’s visible commitment to developing a high-quality workforce that meets nationally recognized training standards. Registered apprenticeship programs also enable employees to receive incremental wage increases as they demonstrate new competencies throughout the training program, according to a news release from Apprenticeship Carolina.
“We have 5,000 high school students and 1,500 will be at the career center at any time,” said Danny Merck, superintendent of the School District of Pickens County. “Thirty-five percent of our students attend the career center on a daily basis.
“We think this is the best practice of putting kids in internships, and we feel like that is the future and we’d like to do more of it,” he said. “We feel like our students are ready to do it and do a great job.”
Carla Whitlock, senior apprenticeship consultant, Apprenticeship Carolina, said the organization currently works with more than 200 companies “who have done like Champion is doing today. They’ve registered youth apprenticeship programs to start to build that workforce pipeline earlier.
“What Champion Aerospace is doing for the community in terms of putting together the youth apprenticeship program is tremendous,” she said.
Ken Hitchcock, director of the Pickens County Career and Technology Center, was unable to attend the signing event, but said in a news release that “it is an honor and a privilege for these students to be selected as youth apprentices with a company like Champion Aerospace. The faculty and staff of Pickens County Career and Technology Center are pleased to provide youth apprentices from our award-winning programs to our local business and industry.”