ORANGE PARK – Clay High graduate Christian Sweat, 19, has been accepted into an apprenticeship program that combines 18 credit hours of free college courses at St. Johns River State College and …
ORANGE PARK – Clay High graduate Christian Sweat, 19, has been accepted into an apprenticeship program that combines 18 credit hours of free college courses at St. Johns River State College and paid on-the-job training with Fleet Readiness Center Southeast, the largest industrial employer in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
This partnership, which prepares accepted applicants for trade jobs such as electronics mechanic, machinist, sheet metal mechanic, painting and aircraft mechanic, began a year ago as SJR State and FRCSE sought a means for training the artisans of the future. Apprentices begin their training at a rate of $15.60 an hour and are guaranteed a federal job upon successful completion of the program, which lasts three to four years.
“Rather than pursue an academic college degree, I wanted to learn a challenging job skill that I could use for my entire work career,” Sweat said. “My specific area of interest in the apprenticeship program is the sheet metal mechanic. I have always been interested in repairing cars and the rehab of mechanical equipment like lawn mowers and other small engines. The sheet metal mechanic field will give me the opportunity to fine-tune my mechanical skills.”
According to FRCSE Public Affairs Deputy Benjamin Hayes, "Fleet Readiness Center - Southeast is offering great opportunities for a new generation of employees who are seeking stable, profitable careers in naval aviation. Our apprentices have a direct path to a high-paying career with excellent benefits. They also earn college credit and contribute to the defense of our country - all while getting paid! At FRC, people are our most important asset, and we are proud to offer this program to our local community."
SJR State President Joe Pickens added, “New and exciting learning opportunities continue to be introduced at SJR State. Through our newest programs, such as the Associate in Science in Engineering Technology and related certificate programs, we continue to provide quality education and training for our ever-changing workforce. Our partnership with the Fleet Readiness Center is a wonderful example of this and clearly demonstrates the value of career programs that provide career pathways to high-skilled, high-wage employment. Our goal at SJR State is to help students not only secure a job for today, but a career for a lifetime.”
After completing two semesters of coursework, Sweat will have earned SJR State’s Engineering Technology Support Specialist certificate, which is the core program of the College’s Engineering Technology Associate in Science degree.
“My overall career vision is to first complete my apprentice program,” Sweat explained. “Since the program provides some college credits, I would also like to finish my degree and work toward becoming a supervisor and trainer in my field.”
Out of the 97 apprentices accepted into the program, 36 of them, including five females, recently spent the day at SJR State participating in an orientation and college tours, meeting with advisors and registering for classes. The onboarding event ended with a briefing about the engineering program. Although classes won’t begin until the end of August for this first cohort, these apprentices have already begun earning salaries from FRCSE. Additional cohorts are planned for the spring and summer semesters, and new recruitment for the program is anticipated for 2020.
Fleming Island High School graduate, Shannon Beechum, 19, explained that she initially wanted to go into the Navy to become an aircraft electrician. Then, when her father, who retired from an almost 40-year career with FRCSE, told her about the apprenticeship opportunity, she enrolled. “I’m doing what I want to do, and I’m getting paid to go to school. It’s unbelievable. It’s a blessing,” Beechum said. “Since not many women currently work in the field, it’s giving us an opportunity to make our mark.”
“Advanced manufacturing, particularly in the area of aviation, is an industry that JAXUSA identified as one of our region’s assets, needs and opportunities,” said Anna Lebesch, vice president of talent development at JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development organization for the seven counties of Northeast Florida. “Therefore, it is vital that we support new business and education partnerships, which strategically develop an ongoing talent pipeline. This program with FRCSE and SJR State is an excellent example of our region’s employers, colleges and school districts working together to change the future of workforce development,” Lebesch stated.
SJR State offers three additional certificate programs: Mechatronics, Robotics and Simulation Technician, and Certified Production Technician. Classes associated with these programs, which are offered at the College’s Orange Park and Palatka campuses, are also available to the general public.
Beechum said the apprenticeship program is also a wonderful opportunity for those not sure about their future. “I think it’s great for people who aren’t sure what they want to do in life, especially if the military was their intended route or they just have a simple interest in airplanes,” she said. “You don’t have to have any prior knowledge. You just submit an application, and they train you. It’s great for your future.”
For more information about academic requirements, contact St. Johns River State College Dean of Workforce & Technical Education John “Jay” Paterson at JohnPaterson@sjrstate.edu at (386) 312-4232.
For additional information about the FRCSE apprenticeship program, contact Career Development Director Vince Elston at firstname.lastname@example.org or (904) 790-7536.