Advanced manufacturing in Missouri has grown through Governor Parson’s leadership, and Youth Registered Apprenticeship Programs for ages 16 to 18, are actively filling many of these high-demand, well-paying welding jobs. According to Missouri Skilled and Technical Sciences Director Dr. Oscar Carter, of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Schools (DESE), welding programs across the state are one of the largest and most sought-after training programs offered in our schools.
Sikeston Technology and Career Center’s welding instructor, Brent Trankler, is the 2021-22 Missouri Association for Career and Technical Education “Secondary Teacher of the Year.” His expertise and industry-relevant classroom lab have allowed many students to have successful careers upon graduation during his 12 years of teaching. Challenged to convert a hands-on welding simulation laboratory to be virtual during the pandemic, he reached out to Harbor Freight, who stepped-up by providing at-home kits while the kids were quarantined and learning virtually. Harbor Freight supplied students with personalized lessons that included a multimeter, blueprint reading materials, and sheet metal fabrication kits. Mentoring his students, initially in an internship format during this new “Leave and Learn” model, helped Mr. Trankler see the importance of establishing a registered welding apprenticeship program.
In March of 2020, Mr. Trankler sought the Registered Youth Apprenticeship training expertise of Cynthia Walker, Independent Contractor with IWSI America on the Urban Youth Initiative Project and DESE’s State Apprenticeship Specialist. “Through Mrs. Walker’s training, we were able to get traction and actually put into place a successful plan to execute. She equipped us to successfully start our YRAP and set clear expectations of the students and documentation processes for our employers. She’s been with us every step of the way, providing meaningful guidance and direction into this program. With her help it has exceeded our expectations and will continue to grow it in our region.” The Sikeston CTC YRAP took a year to get up and going, and they registered in April of 2021. Missouri continues to lead the nation in employers hiring youth.
Mr. Trankler’s first welder apprentices, Jake Winstead and Weston Henry, are on track to complete their US Department of Labor National Completion Credential in summer 2022. These young men contributed to more than $25 million in production for their trailer manufacturer employer, Construction Trailer Specialists, located in Sikeston, Missouri. With current wages of $14 an hour, these apprentices will become full-time employees upon graduation. Because of their experience through the apprenticeship program, the employer will start their full-time pay at a significantly higher rate per hour.
In successful programs established for young people in Missouri, the high school teacher serves as the gatekeeper for students to participate in the RYAP. Their industry knowledge and ability to assess students’ aptitude, work ethic, and sincere desire to grow in their chosen career path allows them to recommend high-performing students. This relationship, nurtured through mentorship from both teachers and employers, increases retention and helps these young apprentices have a safe environment to learn and grow. For example, the apprentice supervisor at Construction Trailer Specialists, Kelly Philips, stated, “Jake and Weston’s attitudes and willingness to learn and work comes from their class with Mr. Trankler. He teaches what the real-world needs and demands from employment these days.” Mr. Trankler is a highly relational teacher who engages with his students on both personal and professional levels. His vision and execution of this new program attracted the attention of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation America and the Urban Institute, who are partnering with him for this school year. This new and growing program begun under extraordinary circumstances during the height of the pandemic and is now flourishing because of school officials’ expertise and dedication, local employers’ buy-in, and apprentices’ own efforts and desires.