Apprenticeships in Charleston Benefit Community Interests Too

BY GERRITA POSTLEWAIT/School Administrator, August 2018

Gerrita Postlewait (left), superintendent in Charleston County, S.C., with a St. John’s High School student as part of
the School Lunch Series Tour, showcasing new offerings at the high school, including youth apprenticeships.

Stephen Maddy was one of those high school students who knew where he wanted to start his career — the field of information technology. He jumped with both feet into the Charleston Regional Youth Apprenticeship program in South Carolina.

Maddy began the two-year program during his senior year at West Ashley High School, during which time he was hired by the city of Charleston to work 10 hours a week as a computer networking youth apprentice. Upon completion, the city hired him full-time as a PC support technician. Then, he was promoted to network engineer, beating out candidates who had bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The job came with a $20,000 annual raise.

Wide Benefits
The Charleston County School District is committed to offering students a choice of options for career preparedness. Youth apprenticeships, which challenge the traditional college-for-all model, are an essential part. Our 50,000-student school system participates enthusiastically in the regional youth apprenticeship program, a collaboration among four school districts, Trident Technical College, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and local businesses.

High school students begin the youth apprentice program in their junior or senior year. They take high school courses and career-related college courses for which they earn credit, and they work and learn on the job. The Chamber of Commerce covers the cost of college tuition. Participating companies provide training and a scalable wage.

Students completing the apprenticeship program receive a recognized credential, job training and college credit, all free to them. They also earn wages for their work hours. South Carolina’s state government offers businesses a $1,000 tax credit for each student they hire as an apprentice.

During the four years of operation, 165 students have been placed in youth apprenticeships, 80 of them from Charleston County. Students have explored at least 18 career pathways, including information technology, manufacturing, finance and health sciences. The youth apprenticeships represent the best of project-based learning as well as competency-based and cross-curricular education.

Local Job Contenders
As superintendent, I also want to ensure our students benefit from the Charleston region’s booming economy by landing the high-demand, high-wage jobs. A beautiful, world-class city, Charleston has a rapidly expanding economy with Boeing Co. and Volvo Cars opening operations. But local students haven’t always benefited from the city’s success.

A 2014 study conducted by the Chamber of Commerce found many of the new positions were being filled by people relocating to Charleston, not long-time residents. That prompted the chamber and others to explore ways to open the doors for local residents. A strong youth apprenticeship program was one answer.

Workplace leaders were quick to embrace the youth apprenticeships. They were ready for this, and they became the leaders of the movement. I consider myself an ambassador for the program, and I address the topic regularly with them.

Overcoming Resisters
We face the same challenges typically encountered by apprenticeship programs. Students in extracurricular activities fear they won’t have time to participate, and transportation can be a problem for some. In addition, some students aren’t yet mature enough to handle the responsibility an apprenticeship demands. But most resistance stems from the entrenched idea that the best pursuit for almost every student is to enroll at a four-year university immediately after high school.

Stephen Maddy knows that enrolling in an apprenticeship program doesn’t mean sacrificing postsecondary options. Now 20, he plans to earn his bachelor’s degree in computer science from ECPI University, where he will be a junior this fall. But unlike a lot of undergraduates, Maddy knows exactly what he wants to study, and he’s certain that he will be successful in that field.

GERRITA POSTLEWAIT is superintendent of the Charleston County School District in Charleston, S.C.

Additional Information
The Charleston Regional Apprenticeship program is a collaboration among the Charleston County School District and other education and business groups. Apprenticeship Carolina is the state agency that helps companies establish registered apprenticeship programs.
More details are available at