SALEM, Va. – Fast food, babysitting or retail is what most high school students do to earn money.
There is something new happening. Salem, Roanoke County and Roanoke City schools are teaming up for a regional approach to apprenticeships for students.
Welding is in high demand.
“My favorite part about it is I’m moving a lot. I’m working hard,” said Jose Zuniga-Gomez, a Salem High School junior who is learning the welding trade. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I really enjoy it.”
Mersen teamed up with Salem City Schools to offer the apprenticeship program.
“We want young people who have the right attitude, right mindset, interest, curiosity and the willingness to go through a training program,” said Martin Fischer, the Mersen General Manager.
It’s part of a growing approach, where Roanoke Valley schools are working with different businesses.
Students can learn many skills all while earning a paycheck, high school credit and an industry credential that means they could go straight into the workforce, skipping college. Apprenticeships include CNC Machining equipment, carpentry skills, electrical applications, plumbing applications, HVAC, surveying, water quality and water treatment. Organizers are looking to add to the list.
“It’s opened a lot of doors. I’ve met amazing people here and they’ve always been so nice,” said Lexi Wynn, who works at Wabtec Graham White.
Wynn spent her last year at Cave Spring High School in the apprenticeship program and is now at Virginia Western Community College, still getting the same experience.
“I’m learning how to do the machining and I’ve also been learning the assembly and other parts of how a manufacturing company would work which would help me later on when I want to do my prosthetics or get into another job,” said Wynn.
Students get training and companies can grow the next generation of workers. It’s a win-win.
“There are a lot of companies here like us, manufacturing companies, they are also struggling with finding the right skilled labor. It’s not necessarily out there so we have to develop the skills early on,” said Fischer.
“I’m hoping to come here for I don’t know how long, I hope for the rest of my life. I like it here,” said Zuniga-Gomez.
Right now there are 11 businesses involved but they would like to add to the list. They encourage people to give it a chance because it’s not as difficult to set up as you think.
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There’s an event Thursday, January 16 for sophomores and juniors interested in the apprenticeship program. You will be able to meet with businesses offering apprenticeships and ask questions before applying. It’s open to all Salem, Roanoke City and Roanoke County students. It’s at the Green Ridge Recreation Center from 5:30-7:30 p.m.