The Dallas County Schools co-op program is designed for students seeking careers in vehicle maintenance. They learn the trade, earn extra money, and some are hired by the district after they graduate.
Some districts are using maintenance apprenticeship programs to grow their applicant pools, teach work and life skills, and give back to the community by contributing skilled technicians. Students, in turn, gain experience for their resumes, earn some money — in some cases while attending college — and sometimes find a career path resulting in a full-time job with the district.
Expanding the applicant pool
Started approximately 15 years ago, the Tulsa (Okla.) Bridges Project, a Department of Rehabilitation Services intern program, provides high school juniors and seniors with work opportunities in the Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) transportation department, creating well-trained potential employees who already know the shop and how it works.
The program was introduced as a way to give special-needs students with high-functioning capabilities vocational, hands-on experience in the garage and other areas of the transportation department. Students help mechanics with tasks such as changing tires and oil, learn about vehicle maintenance and safety, and review diagnostics. They also assist in the routing and scheduling department with data entry, documentation, taking phone calls and dispatch.
Developing essential skills for the real-world work environment, such as punctuality and responsibility, is another aspect of the program, says Rosalyn Vann-Jackson, assistant director of transportation at TPS. These are emphasized in what she calls the three As: attendance, appearance and attitude.
The program grooms the students to be good employees and provides an additional application pool, Vann-Jackson says. She cites as an example Casey Middleton, a mechanic for TPS who started his career in the program and recently won first place as America’s Best School Bus Inspector at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s School Bus Technician Training and Skills Competition.
David Anderson, director of transportation and fleet for Colorado’s Adams 12 Five Star Schools, agrees that the extra manpower from an apprenticeship he founded is a major benefit, especially since there are now significantly fewer candidates applying than just a few years ago.
“I used to get 50 applications if I had an opening; now I am happy if I get 10,” he says.