For 22 years, Stafford County business Childress Heating & A/C, Inc. has sponsored employees in the Virginia apprenticeship program. One of them is 17-year-old Josh Hayes, a senior at Riverbend High School.
“He’s doing great. We hired him this summer,” said Dawn Richards, office manager at Childress. “Josh is motivated and takes initiative. He had already been through a year of training, so he’ll be halfway through his journeyman certification by the time he graduates.”
Hayes completed the first year of Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning & Refrigeration requirements by attending classes at the Spotsylvania Career and Technical Center during the 2017-18 school year, and started HVAC/R II this fall, traveling by bus daily from Riverbend to the SCTC campus adjacent to Courtland High School.
“He comes in and works for us a couple days a week after school, which is great. We’re able to continue to build on the information he’s learning in class,” Richards said. “Once he graduates he’ll get full-time status, and finish up his HVAC certification in the evenings at SCTC.”
SCTC hopes to build similar bridges between students and employers in 19 content areas of instruction offered at the center—from construction and manufacturing to health science, a range of computer technology and communications, hospitality and human services.
Businesses are invited to an open house at the center Sept. 21, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The building is tucked behind the Courtland Commons Shopping Center at 6713 Smith Station Road, in Spotsylvania.
“We currently work with more than 200 businesses,” said Cara Gravatt, SCTC assistant principal. “This year we’re just shy of 1,000 students coming to classes here from the five Spotsylvania County high schools.”
Snacks will be provided at the open house by SCTC Culinary Arts I and II classes. A short presentation highlighting the center’s certification programs and an overview of class offerings will be repeated in the foyer, while visitors, provided with a map, will be free to explore the center and talk with instructors.
Businesses help SCTC with student mentoring, equipment donations, guest instruction and on-the-job student shadowing. They also provide judges and evaluation at a range of industry-specific competitions and skills testing events.
Even with business support, “So many people tell us they didn’t even know we are here,” said Emily Hall, who was hired to a new position this fall to be a liaison between SCTC and the business community. “We are really trying to get the word out and expand our business networking.”
Scott Davis, a field coordinator for Coleman Homes, Inc., studied carpentry at SCTC while attending Chancellor High School his junior and senior years, 1997 and ’98.
“Between my junior and senior year I was picked up by Coleman Homes, starting out as a carpenter, and I’ve been there ever since,” Davis said.
Now he’s working to build bridges between not only Coleman Homes and the SCTC, but also the Fredericksburg Area Builders Association.
“The end goal here is we’re trying to get the next generation into the building trades and hopefully revitalize the workforce,” Davis said. “Young people are disappearing from the trades. This kind of partnership is critical to the industry.”
The National Association of Home Builders is committed to putting 50,000 young people into the workforce over the next five years, Davis said.
“We’re forming a student chapter so we can help them apply for scholarships and give them the support they need to continue on in the building trades,” he said.
Davis said his instructor, Paul Hibbs, who still supervises the carpentry program at the SCTC, and others throughout his life were instrumental in steering Davis toward a career that would be fulfilling for him.
“I knew from elementary school that I was not going to college, because I learn best by doing,” Davis said. “I learned from mentors along the way that I could make a good life of it in blue-collar work.”
Davis said his SCTC tradition continues with his own daughter, Mikayla—now a junior in the health and medical pathways program at the SCTC.
“She’ll come out with her medical assisting license,” he said. “In the Pathways program, they allow sophomores to take a sampling of four different career areas and decide which one is for you.”
Richards, who is the daughter of the HVAC buisiness’ founder Irvin Childress, said the arrangement with Hayes is the first time their company has sponsored a youth apprentice.
“It took some paperwork with the Department of Industry and Labor—you have to be careful because of child labor laws—there are some things he can’t do,” Richards said. “But now he’s on a great track. What they’re doing [at SCTC] is fantastic.”
Hayes said he was drawn to HVAC out of curiosity, after starting with the Metal Trade I class.
“I couldn’t take any more of that, I had to move on to something else, and HVAC sounded interesting to me,” Hayes said. He has two certifications: EPA 608 universal, and his OSHA 10 card.
Hayes was hired at Childress after applying at several HVAC companies earlier in the summer. One company told Hayes he already was more certified to work in the industry than some of their employees.
“We’re very proud of him—[SCTC] has been wonderful to work with and we’re thrilled to have Josh on a solid career path,” said his mother, Michelle Hayes, a human resources specialist with the U.S. Army. “He took all the initiative and wanted to do this.”
SCTC HVAC instructor Tony Lann said Josh Hayes' level of maturity and his willingness to work hard have helped him succeed.
“He’s a great example for the other students—this is something we’re always working on, you’ve got to be professional, and we try to model that in the program as best we can,” Lann said.