| by Nicholas Wyman | Forbes.com |
Just 11% of would-be students are accepted into this school. Sounds like one of America’s most selective colleges, doesn’t it?
It’s not actually that new either. This year, the school celebrates its first century and it’s produced more than 10,000 highly skilled graduates so far. None of them carry a debt. While they were studying, each student pocketed full-time pay and comprehensive benefits.
This year, for example, around 850 students are enrolled, and their hourly rate is approaching eighteen dollars an hour for both work and classroom hours.
Sounds like this is only for school leavers? Not so fast. It’s much broader than that. Take one of its current students – former history teacher Osman Erdogan. He emigrated from Turkey to the U.S. in 2000. Then he had two goals: to find secure employment and further his education. He started working at his brother’s ship repair company in Virginia and enrolled in ESL classes at a local community college. In his spare time, Osman toured area museums and was drawn to U.S. maritime history exhibits.
In 2011, Osman was hired as a contractor at Newport News Industrial (NNI) Shipbuilding, a subdivision of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII). After a few years of hard yards, he became a salaried employee. By chance, he saw a booklet in the staff room advertising night school.
Osman says: “It had so many classes that I was interested in like ship design and systems, shipyard operations, mechanical drawing and architecture. I wanted to sign up on the dotted line then and there to take all of the classes. I was so hungry to learn.”
He got in. Before long, Osman’s mechanical drawing teacher noticed his dedication and passion for learning and encouraged Osman to enroll at HII’s Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing about this dynamic tough-to-get-into school. HII is the largest military shipbuilder in America. Since its inception, the skills taught at its Apprentice School have continued to evolve along with technological advances in the industry. New recruits are working with master shipbuilders to build an all-digital U.S. Navy fleet. Designers and engineers are working on the first-ever all-digital, paperless build of the USS Enterprise, the U.S. Navy’s next aircraft carrier.
Stan Best, the School’s resident historian, training manager, and instructor of Business and Communications, says: “Back in 1945, out in Los Alamos, they exploded the first atomic bomb. Within 15 years, we were building ships that run on nuclear power.
“So, my job as an educator is to prepare my apprentices for a form of technology that I don’t know exists right now. You cannot sit on what you’ve learned today.”
Stan, who joined the program as an apprentice in 1985, admits he was initially apprehensive.
“When I was in high school, if you would have told me I was going to The Apprentice School, I would have thought that was a loss. I was afraid that it would pigeonhole me and reduce my opportunities for continuing my education.” He’s not alone there. This is a common misconception among students and parents, especially when traditional college is pushed as the only path to success and financial security. But Stan’s fears of reduced opportunities proved unfounded. He went through HII’s Apprentice School qualifying in 1988, became a shipboard electrician then a nuclear test engineer. Further apprenticeship training led him to a 15-year career as a test engineer. Stan’s education didn’t stop there. While testing reactors, he got associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees – all tuition-free, thanks to Newport News Shipbuilding’s tuition reimbursement program. He started teaching at the School in 2004.
“I figured it was my duty to give back a little bit,” he says. “The apprentice school has opened up a window of education for me and an opportunity for me to be a lifelong learner.”
One of his students is Osman, now a married father of twins, and in his second year of training for pipefitting. He says he’s optimistic about his family’s future and thrilled about the doors that apprenticeship has opened for him.
“As a person that came from a thousand miles away with a broken accent, I found that if you work hard and show honesty, sincerity and integrity, you can succeed here. I never feel any discrimination at work or at school. My coworkers are so friendly, so helpful. I consider myself a very lucky person.
“I tell my young peers here that they don’t know how lucky they are. I tried to study my whole life, but there was always some obstacle I had to overcome. What can be better than someone offering you a job and free school? I didn’t know that such a program existed in the world. I knew I couldn’t miss this opportunity. I had to take it.”
The Apprentice School is just one form of modern apprenticeship on offer in America. There’s got to be one out there that’s a perfect fit for you. What path will give you traction to a great career or two?