Hartselle High School pioneers North Alabama’s first apprenticeship program with Sonoco partnership
In a groundbreaking move for education and industry collaboration, Hartselle High School announced the names of students selected for the inaugural Modern Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship program Dec. 8.
Approved in August, the initiative marks a significant milestone as Hartselle High School becomes the first AOA (Alabama Office of Apprenticeship) approved high school apprenticeship sponsor in North Alabama.
The four students chosen for the apprenticeship program that will begin in January are sophomores Bryson Harvel, Will Sharp, Isaiah Estrada and Emaley Campbell.
Harvel said he is thrilled to be a part of the program.
“I heard what they had for college and what I could do after college,” he said. “It sounded like a great first job.”
Will Sharp agrees. He said he is most looking forward to putting the nationally recognized apprenticeship on his resume.
Isaiah Estrada said even though he didn’t know anyone who had gone through Tiger Launch, he applied because it sounded like a good opportunity to work while in school and earn a wage.
Emaley Campbell said she is excited for the adventure that awaits her and the experience she will gain through her participation.
The journey toward this achievement began six years ago with the establishment of the Manufacturing Academy, coinciding with the inception of Tiger Launch, according to career tech director Elisa Harris. The goal set for the first year, Harris said, was to enroll no more than eight apprentices, but with hopes that number will continue to grow.
Harris said the program’s unique structure requires students to complete both the rigorous curriculum and essential skills components before graduating from high school. Successful completion of the apprenticeship will result in students earning the distinguished title of manufacturing technician, a credential recognized nationwide.
To qualify for the apprenticeship, students were required to complete a minimum of two years in the academy, engaging in coursework that blended theory with practical applications. Additionally, participants will be required to dedicate at least one semester as a Tiger Launch student, working in tandem with industry partner Sonoco.
Students then completed applications, provided references and were interviewed by the interview committee that included Sonoco leaders, HHS career coach Cory Wilbanks, Harris and North Alabama Works’ Billy Troutman.
Sonoco VP of Operations Brian Kilpatrick said Sonoco has had other apprenticeship programs through Calhoun Community College and Wallace State, but this is the first high school program, and it didn’t happen overnight.
“We’ve been working for the last five years to set the stage for this,” Kilpatrick said. “We had to prove Tiger Launch first because you must be able to take students and put them in a safe working environment.
“These apprentices will be getting the related training instruction in safety, quality, production and maintenance in the classroom and then they will come work with Richard Long and our team at Tiger Launch where they will get to apply that knowledge.
“Each apprentice will be assigned a mentor they will be able to demonstrate proficiency in those key competencies in safety, quality, production and maintenance. Emaley, Isaiah, Bryson and Will should be very proud as they are the first youth apprentices to participate in such a program in North Alabama,” he added.
Kilpatrick said the apprenticeship program will hopefully open the doors for other high schools not only in Alabama but across the country to bolster their workforce development efforts.
“Hartselle High School is progressive in their approach toward workforce development and passionate about the development of their students,” he said. “Their mindset really fits with Sonoco because we’re passionate about supporting the community and developing our employees so it’s a win-win,” he said.
Currently, 300 students have gone through Tiger Launch, Kilpatrick added, with 10 percent of the workforce at the Hartselle plant coming from the program.
Sonoco boasts an 80 percent retention rate of Tiger Launch graduates.