Education

'World is your oyster': Fort Mill students chosen for tech industry apprenticeships

Nation Ford High School juniors Katy Kophazi, 17, left, and Anita Bitterli, 17, show off the robot they built for a robotics competition. Kophazi was recently selected for a pre-apprenticeship program at Bosch Rexroth in Charlotte.
Nation Ford High School juniors Katy Kophazi, 17, left, and Anita Bitterli, 17, show off the robot they built for a robotics competition. Kophazi was recently selected for a pre-apprenticeship program at Bosch Rexroth in Charlotte.

Rather than packing their bags to head off to a four-year college after graduation, 10 Fort Mill School District students are prepping for their futures with summer pre-apprenticeships at regional companies.

Each student will compete for four-year apprenticeships, which include an associate’s degree paid for by the company, an hourly rate that increases with experience and a guaranteed job after graduation.

The district’s work-based learning coordinator Susan Brackett said 19 students from the district have been selected for apprenticeships in the last four years.

Nation Ford High School junior Katy Kophazi, 17, will participate in a pre-apprenticeship at Bosch Rexroth in Charlotte, fulfilling her interest in robotics and engineering.

“I will be working toward becoming a machinist in advanced manufacturing,” she said. “I went to Bosch Rexroth (and) saw they do linear motion. You have to be really precise to do linear motion, and I love math and science, so it all came together in that company.”

Gary Wyte, Bosch Rexroth manufacturing and engineering manager, said Kophazi will learn team building, manufacturing processes and organization while getting hands-on experience shadowing machinists.

“Skilled machinists are difficult to find, and when we are able to find experienced machinists, they sometimes come with bad habits,” he said. “Apprenticeship gives Bosch the ability to grow skilled trades in a manner that fits our organization.”

Fort Mill High School senior Rebecca Clark, 19, will begin her pre-apprenticeship at Blum in Stanley, N.C.

“I’ll learn hands-on tooling, milling and turning while shadowing in five departments,” she said. “I’ve always liked engineering and technical stuff.”

Andreas Thurner, Blum apprenticeship manager, said if Clark earns the four-year apprenticeship, she will receive a $175,000 scholarship for an 8,000-hour apprentice training program and guaranteed employment. About $90,000 of that will go directly to Clark as paychecks. Blum covers 100 percent of her tuition.

“We need technicians to grow our company, and we believe companies should give something back to local communities,” Thurner said.

Pfaff Molds in Charlotte chose Nations Ford High School senior Dom Hickman as a pre-apprentice. Hickman wants to earn an associate’s degree in megatronics, a mixture of mechanical and electrical engineering.

“I’ve known for a while I didn’t want to just go to college, because coming out of college you’re not certain to have a job,” he said. “I wanted to go straight to work or have a plan after college. This apprenticeship aligns with that perfectly. I’ll be going to school and learning hands-on work.”

Troy DeVlieger, Pfaff Molds president, said Hickman will learn basics in machining, manufacturing, blueprint reading, basic design concepts and mold making. Pre-apprentices will be assessed in their technical skills, character, problem solving and leadership.

“The average age of people in our industry that have experience hovers around 50-years-old depending on which industry metric you look at,” DeVlieger said. “The Apprenticeship 2000 program is an investment into the company’s future and growth. Our apprentices become vital, technically-skilled employees and hopefully, leaders in the company sometime in the future. That is the goal.”

Seven other Fort Mill district students will serve pre-apprenticeships at Siemens, Groninger and Chiron America in Charlotte.

“Over 50 percent of the jobs in our country are technical, and yet we are sending two-thirds of our students to pursue four-year university degrees and only 25 percent are coming out with those degrees after six years,” Brackett said. “We are heavy in manufacturing in this area, and we have a large number of unfilled jobs.

"Why not start with a job that’s available with a company willing to pay for your education? And the world’s your oyster.”

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