by Dorothy Puch Lillig

As the school year winds down in the Spring Branch Independent School District, a group of high school students completing their junior year are preparing to participate in a “boot camp” this summer. They’re not trying to join a military organization or complete an exercise program. If they make it through the two-week evaluation, they will move on to paid internships with TRIO Electric in the Spring Branch District.

This will be the first summer since TRIO started the TRIO Pre-Apprenticeship Partnership, offering high school juniors an opportunity to take steps toward a career in the electrician trade. This endeavor was conceived in partnership with TRIO, Spring Branch ISD and Houston Community College, Spring Branch Campus. The pre-apprentices gain real-world skills and knowledge while completing a portion of the certification process to become journeymen — all while still in high school.

Eligible students participate in paid internships and, after graduation, continue on as full-time apprentices at TRIO or other firms while completing requirements in order to qualify to take the journeyman exam.

Forty-seven juniors are completing their first year in the program, said Andrea Hodge, manager of the TRIO Apprenticeship Program. Hodge is in charge of the pre-apprenticeship program for local high school students, as well as the company’s apprentice program for adults, started in 2013.

Some 60 students have expressed interest in the pre-apprenticeship program for next school year, Hodge said, and that’s a good thing. Experienced electricians are in high demand, she said, and thousands will be needed in the near future to fill jobs in the Gulf Coast region.

Hodge said TRIO CEO Beau Pollock has been leading the charge on growing a skilled workforce and investing in his future team.

“TRIO always wants to be the best,” Hodge said. “To be the best, you have to have the best on your team.”

While we live in a “college-focused culture,” Hodge said, there are opportunities for students for whom college isn’t a desire or an option. The pre-apprenticeship program gives high school students exposure to a career they may not have considered.

“We want to tap in early and capture the imagination of kids who want to do something with their hands before they make other decisions,” Hodge said.

Joe Kolenda, principal at the Guthrie Center, SBISD’s career and technical education center, said the TRIO program is the Guthrie’s first full partnership with one committed employer.

“Beau and his team at TRIO have invested their time, expertise and generosity to help us create something special,” Kolenda said. “This is the only program in SBISD where an employer is providing a direct pathway to a lucrative career immediately upon graduation by hiring them as full apprentices with a two-year head start over others entering the field.”

Students will graduate with an Electrical Helper Level 1 certificate from HCC, Kolenda said. “This is huge for students who may be apprehensive about the college process as they will have already succeeded in it,” he said.

Kolenda said even just the number of organizations involved in the partnership leaves a positive impression on students. Other partners in the program besides TRIO, HCC and SBISD include Greater Houston Partnership’s UpSkill Houston, United Way, Gulf Coast Workforce Solutions, Jr. Achievement, and the Department of Labor.

“I think one of the intangibles is that students can see that they have many adults from multiple organizations genuinely interested in their success,” Kolenda said.

Hodge said the program is the ultimate win-win, as students gain access to a great career and companies like TRIO gain access to well-trained future employees. She believes the program will be a model for others like it.

“The momentum around it is building,” she said. “It’s an exciting time for the organization.”

Read more about Houston’s demand for skilled workers and TRIO’s program here:

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