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School-to-apprenticeship students try out trade (Photo gallery)





Several of the new seniors at Max S. Hayes High School spent the summer working full time in sheet-metal fabricating shops. They also were building a future in the industry.

The students are the first to participate in a new program that can lead directly from Max Hayes to a five-year apprenticeship as a sheet-metal worker.

Matt Gonzalez and Diamond Boylan got to know their way around the shop at Smith & Oby in Walton Hills with beginner apprentice's tasks – making slips and drives, loading trucks and pounding fittings. Gonzalez, certified as a welder since 10th grade, sometimes was able to apply that skill as well.

They made $12.50 an hour, the rate set under CMSD’s agreement with the Sheet Metal Workers Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee of Cleveland. Gonzalez happily put in six days and 48 hours, earning overtime on Saturday.

“I wished they would give me more hours,” he said. “I think I can go far in this. I woke up for work every morning with a smile on my face.”

Boylan, who has been studying building construction at Max Hayes, was nervous at first and unsure how she would fit in, but co-workers quickly drew her out of her shell with light-hearted banter. That allowed her to focus on a job she can return to during breaks from school and a trade she can envision turning into a career.

“It’s fun making something out of metal,” she said. “I’ve never done it before.”

Kendrick Hunt had not held a job before joining T.H. Martin Inc. in Brook Park and admittedly had to adjust to taking on responsibility.

Hunt, who lives near the border between Cleveland and Euclid, maintained good attendance despite a challenging, crosstown commute. He got up every day at 4 a.m., took multiple buses and arrived about a half-hour before his 7 o’clock shift.

Like Gonzalez and Boylan, he can easily imagine working in the sheet-metal industry for life.

“It pays well, and it’s a productive job. It’s not going to be boring,” he said. “I like being able to create things and see them turn into something bigger.”

Companies like Smith & Oby and T.H. Martin welcome apprentices, and the CMSD program is a good fit. The companies find the labor they need while diversifying their workforces; the students are exposed to jobs that in the Cleveland area pay a journeyman $37.53 an hour, plus benefits.

“We’re looking for creative ways to get better talent,” said Thomas Martin, president of T.H. Martin. “Meanwhile, you’re getting trained and we’re paying you to get trained.”

Officials at both companies said they were impressed with the caliber of the Max Hayes students and would consider hiring them long term.

To get into the program, students must demonstrate aptitude and dependability in school. Requirements include a minimum 2.5-point average overall -- 3.0 in their career pathway – and an attendance rate of at least 95 percent.

The sheet-metal school-to-apprenticeship program, announced early this year, is one of two pipeline initiatives available to Max Hayes students.

The District and the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council agreed on a pre-apprenticeship program three years ago, but students who participate still have to go through apprenticeship programs' admission procedures.

John Nesta, a retired sheet-metal worker, now serves as a construction curriculum specialist at Max Hayes. He is discussing career programs with other trades.

“Upon graduation from high school, these students can immediately become apprentices, bypassing testing and interviews n what can be an extremely competitive admissions procress," Nesta said. "Working in the field before becoming apprentices exposes Max Hayes students to career options with wages and benefits that place them solidly in the middle class and enable them to have a future they may never have imagined was possible.”

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