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It’s No Secret; the Trades are Providing a Wealth of Opportunities

May 4, 2022

HVAC intern

“I never wanted to go to a traditional college. I always wanted to be a tradesman,” John Henry Del Principe-Lennon said, inspecting the ductwork in the ceiling above. The Rossview senior just finished installing a new room purifier ion machine for the OnSite Medical Clinic. For the past four months, John Henry has tested the skills he’s learned through the Early Technical College at TCAT while interning with the CMCSS Operations Department.

Satisfied with the job, he turns to the two CMCSS HVAC technicians overseeing his work. They congratulate him on the installation while throwing out trade-specific questions. Del Principe-Lennon answers each question in stride, and the men give him an approving nod. The conversation feels comfortable, and it is easy to see the men are proud of John Henry’s abilities.

As skilled tradesmen, the CMCSS Maintenance Department has embraced the idea of internships, allowing future generations to learn from experienced technicians, mechanics, and electricians.

HVAC Danny Watson

“It’s nice to see someone who really wants to do this,” said Danny Watson, a CMCSS HVAC technician. “We are going to need tradesmen in the future.”

The interns follow employees to various job sites, completing work orders as they would in their future careers. It allows the students to take what they have learned through books and the lab out into the field.

“I have learned a lot since we started,” said John Henry. He is dual enrolled in Rossview High School and the Early Technical College at TCAT, while completing his internship. The dual enrollment program allows students to complete general education graduation requirements and earn career certifications in specific trades to prepare them for high-demand jobs right after high school.

The Early Technical College at TCAT has five different pathways for students, including Diesel Powered Equipment Technology, Industrial Electrical Maintenance and Mechatronics, Pre-Practical Nursing, HVAC/Refrigeration, and Pharmacy Technology. Students in each pathway can explore internships through various local businesses and government agencies. The goal is to provide students with a solid foundation. They walk away with first-hand knowledge before entering the workforce.

Of course, there are other unexpected benefits along the way. “We’ve made new friends with the students, too,” said Watson. “When you have a student come in that’s really interested, we enjoy it quite a bit.”

The students’ enjoyment is evident, too, as they immerse themselves in work. These are students who had the desire for hands-on opportunities. Whether it is the HVAC students installing equipment, the mechanics inspecting vehicles for repair, or the electricians explaining how to run conduits, each student is attentive and focused. Problem-solving and analytical thinking is evident, as they ask questions, throw out solutions, and take constructive feedback.

The students will carry more than just a resume line from the experience; they’re learning how to be valued employees. “We’re learning everything you need in any other job as far as work ethic,” said Joseph Hawkins, a Kenwood High senior who is part of the Industrial Electrical Maintenance & Mechatronics program. “Responsibility, discipline, time management, everything you need, you can learn right here.”

“You can tell he wants to do it,” said Danny Smith, a CMCSS electrician, as he watched Joseph measure the wall of a portable classroom. “I like when someone wants to learn.”

danny and joseph electrician

Joseph stares intently at a metal pipe as he adjusts the angle slightly. As Smith gives minor corrections and advice, Joseph listens carefully, nodding and inspecting his work. Danny Smith has spent 22 years in the trades and is an advocate for the internship program. “I came up the same path that Joseph came up. I went to a technical college after high school. We don’t have enough young people coming up through the trade anymore,” he says. He’s hopeful that opportunities such as Early Technical College provide students with options outside of a college track.

The skills Joseph Hawkins and his classmates learn through their internships can result in high-paying in-demand work virtually anywhere. Students are exposed to various things, including universal HVAC training, adding electrical circuits, retrofitting structures, and cutting into and repairing walls. All while learning specific applications of specialty tools and remodeling processes.

When asked what specific foundational thing he’s learned through his experience, Hawkins responds quickly, “Safety is the number one priority.”

A career in the trades is not for everyone, but it is available to all students willing to put in the work. By providing students with Career and Technical Education classes in high school, and the dual-enrollment opportunity through Early Technical College, CMCSS holds true to its mission that students graduate college and career ready.

Each year, the Early Technical College at TCAT opens applications to Sophomore and Junior students at the seven traditional CMCSS high schools for the following year. To learn more about the Early Technical College, visit etc.cmcss.net.

Danny Smith encourages students to consider the career path, especially if they have the desire and interest. “[You have to have] the willingness to learn. Someone who is motivated and driven. It is not the same thing every day. It’s hard work, but you can make good money. You’ll always have a job.”

“This experience is something that definitely benefits me and [the Maintenance team]. They have the opportunity to teach us what they learned. It furthers their lineage,” said Hawkins. “You can go to school and learn in a book, but going in the real world and learning from people who’ve done this their whole life definitely is something you can’t get in a lab. I am grateful for the experience.”