Muscogee County School District, Pratt & Whitney, Columbus Technical College forge award-winning youth apprenticeship

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 28, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI Justin Wilson, 22, works on part of an Airbus jet engine at Pratt & Whitney. Wilson is a product of the award-winning youth apprentice partnership between the Muscogee County School District, Columbus Technical College and Pratt & Whitney. 10.16.13


To assess the success of this youth apprenticeship, Justin Wilson doesn't need to see the state award the program earned.

He simply can look at his paycheck.

Wilson, 22, graduated from Hardaway High in 2010 and turned his part-time internship at the Pratt & Whitney Columbus Engine Center into a full-time job in the sprawling plant.

"We come here with limited schooling right out of high school, but they give you an opportunity to excel," Wilson said. "They really make it happen. It's a great program. It really is."

Since 2009, when the Muscogee County School District and Columbus Technical College partnered with Pratt & Whitney, 42 students have interned in the engine center and 21 of them have been hired there full-time. No wonder the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program named it one of the two Unique Private-Public Partnerships of the Year in July.

"They fit all the criteria," said Dwayne Hobbs, the state program's manager at the Georgia Department of Education. "They transition students from high school to industry and mentor them so they can work full-time."

The apprenticeship at Pratt & Whitney starts with 11 semester hours of coursework that Columbus Tech teaches the high school students for one elective credit in the fall semester. Harris County students also participate. After they complete the dual-enrollment Certified Manufacturing Specialist course, the students can apply for the six internship positions at Pratt & Whitney in the spring semester.

The school district has apprenticeships with other local organizations in a variety of fields. During the 2012-13 school year, the district enrolled 164 Work-Based Learning students who earned a total of $820,054 through 32,000 training hours at 109 job sites. Youth apprenticeship is one placement category within Work-Based Learning, where students gain high school credit hours while they also gain real-world experience.

And sometimes, like Wilson, they gain a full-time job. Beyond the money, he enjoys the valuable labor.

"I always think about there being a couple hundred people on this plane, so you have to make sure you go over your work," he said. "I go over it two or three times to make sure and then get it inspected."

Jimmy Moore, the apprenticeship supervisor at Pratt & Whitney, insists his interns must have a conscientious attitude.

"I stress to them that we're not working on soap box cars, nothing like that," he said. "We can't make pit stops in the air at all. Either it's done right or wrong. You do have a lot of lives at your hand."

Victor Morales, director of training at the engine center, noted only one of the 21 interns who became full-time employees left Pratt & Whitney, and that was to go to college. But the company also will pay for an employee's college education while they work at Pratt & Whitney.

"We want them to grow," Morales said. "We pay for it 100 percent up to a master's degree."

Wilson isn't in college now, "but I need to be," he said, then gestured toward Moore and Morales. "They get on to me all the time, so I'm going to."

Tom Bode, the general manager of the engine center, recalled when he and Moore told the quality manager that high school students would work on jet engines at the plant.

"He almost threw me and Jimmy out of the room," Bode said with a laugh. "But I will tell you they've become some of our best employees."

Bode explained why.

"One of our big challenges as we've gone through growth is to find local talent," he said. "It's been a great help for us. Now, when we go to ask for expansions, it gives us the ability to say we have local talent we developed, a workforce here that's willing to step up and become part of the aviation business. It's really been phenomenal."

Tim Vinson, the Work-Based Learning coordinator for the school district, praised Pratt & Whitney for being a model partner.

"The absolutely coolest piece of the whole thing, the one thing that we never predicted, was the building forward of the mentorship," said Vinson, the district's 2006 Teacher of the Year when he was a metals technology instructor at Jordan High School. "They are mentored into something brand new. It makes them feel part of the family at Pratt & Whitney."

Amy Wohler, the career tech supervisor at Jordan, has seen the program benefit the students back at school as well.

"They take more responsibility for their own actions," she said. "They're just more adult."LEARN MORE

For more information, about the Muscogee County School District Youth Apprenticeship or other Work-Based Learning programs, contact coordinator Tim Vinson at 706-527-9156 or

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