GRIFFIN, GA — At 4 a.m. on many mornings, 17-year-old Cole McKeehan is already at work at E.G.O. North America in Newnan, Georgia.
McKeehan, a junior at Northgate High School in Newnan, is a student apprentice at E.G.O., which makes radiant heating elements and electronic components such as touch controls and induction heaters at the facility.
He is in his second year of the program — the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT) — and is gaining practical experience in machining and lathing. McKeehan is developing those skills under an apprenticeship program that would let him graduate high school with technical college credits. He can use those credits toward earning an associate’s degree in industrial mechanics from West Georgia Technical College.
“I think this is a great program,” McKeehan said. “I will graduate with an associate’s degree and continue on to college for a four-year degree in engineering or tool and die.”
McKeehan was one of several teens in GA CATT who shared their experiences Nov. 13 at Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s 10th Annual Business & Education Summit.
The session where the teens spoke, held on the first day of the two-day summit and hosted by the Griffin Region College and Career Academy, brought Georgia’s business and education leaders together for a series of collaborative meetings.
The hope is that these meetings will lead to innovative ideas and initiatives to better prepare high school students for the demands of a 21st-century workforce.
The GA CATT session, which also featured business leaders and officials from the Georgia Institute of Technology who worked on its development and implementation, was designed to answer questions from summit attendees, as state officials look to expand it statewide.
“Our GA CATT has had great success,” Cagle said. “We’re in our second year now and to be able to listen to the students and the impact that it’s having on their lives and how motivated and focused and determined they are — it’s a win for them, it’s a win for the community, and it’s certainly a win for industry as well.”
The Georgia initiative was launched in 2016 with support from the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S., the Technical College System of Georgia, West Georgia Technical College, and the Central Educational Center, as well as Georgia Tech’s Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) and Safety and Health Consultation Program.
The GA CATT program seeks to follow the German apprenticeship dual education model and begin with 10th graders, the only program in the U.S. currently doing so.
As in Germany, GA CATT requires participating Georgia high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors to spend 70 percent of their time working at their host company and the remaining 30 percent in the classroom.
The 70-30 split is designed to allow them to graduate on time with a high school diploma and earn technical college credentials while obtaining real, hands-on experience in a workplace and technical skills that they can use to build their careers. In addition, apprentices have the opportunity to attain a German Certification in Industrial Mechanics that is accepted in Europe and beyond as evidence of their skill and knowledge.
The student apprentices are paid for their time at the company, earning $8 an hour when they start and $12 per hour as seniors.
Two German companies with operations in Newnan — Grenzebach Corp. and E.G.O. North America — were committed to launching GA CATT and served as the catalysts for the program.
The companies asked Larry Alford, GaMEP’s South Metro Atlanta region manager, to leverage his long-term relationships with local companies to invite them to join the program. GA CATT began with eight companies and 10 apprentices.
GaMEP, which works with manufacturers to innovate, increase top-line growth, and reduce bottom-line costs, also supported the GA CATT initiative, as did the Institute’s Safety and Health Consultation Program.
“Collaborating with industry from the start has been GA CATT’s secret to success. The educators and the German-American Chamber are key players, but the industry’s commitment will determine its growth and expansion,” Alford said. “Much of the focus rightfully is placed on the students, but equally important are the process and support systems that develop the company mentors, those who are tasked with guiding the activities of the students to meet curriculum requirements and to adequately prepare the apprentices to succeed in the program and at work.”
That commitment on all sides also helps manufacturers build a pipeline of talent, said David Keller, E.G.O. North America’s president and managing director of operations. In an industry that has historically had a difficult time finding a skilled workforce, these companies are looking to the future, by developing interest and relationships with talented students early on, he said.
The goal is that after graduation, the students will work for those companies where they apprenticed.
Jenny Houlroyd, an industrial hygienist with Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services program, is helping GA CATT companies understand and comply with U.S. labor laws that provide flexibility for apprentices under 18 to enter the workforce as student-learners.
In 2017, GA CATT added two additional clusters, centered in Rockdale & Newton Counties and Spalding County. Each cluster includes local manufacturers, their local college and career academies, and the local Technical College. Alford facilitates the implementation teams in each cluster. A total of 18 manufacturers and 28 students currently participate in the program.