Learning while working

By Mike Lewis

Zachary Hill is serving an apprenticeship through Youth Apprenticeship Maryland at Beachley Furniture in Hagerstown, Md.

Apprenticeship program links Maryland students with prospective employers.

Zachary Hill smiled as he described his apprenticeship work at Beachley Furniture.

“I do like it,” he said.

Hill is working and being trained in several aspects of making furniture at Beachley, said Ed Doub, Beachley’s vice president of upholstery operations.

Some of that furniture can be complicated.

The company’s client list ranges from American Airlines to Hilton, Starbucks and VISA.

“Everything we make here is custom,” Doub said, referring to the company’s commercial furniture operation on North Prospect Street in Hagerstown, Md.

Hill, an 18-year-old senior at Clear Spring (Md.) High School, said he hasn’t worked with tools much outside of shop classes.

But this semester he’s spending most afternoons at the 130-year-old furniture company. He’s completed most of his high school coursework and is one of several students taking part in the Youth Apprenticeship Maryland program.

Youth Apprenticeship Maryland was formed under the direction of Gov. Larry Hogan “to aid in creating a pipeline of skilled and qualified labor in both traditional and nontraditional fields by combining on-the-job training and related classroom instruction to eligible high school students.” Public schools in Frederick County and Washington County are serving as pilot programs.

The idea is to help students learn skills and help businesses generate potential employees.

The program is for juniors or seniors, ages 16 and older. They are paid a salary while they learn skills. They have to complete 450 hours of work-based training and one year of related classroom instruction by Aug. 31 following graduation from high school, according to the WCPS website.

Among other things, a business must provide a qualified mentor, sign a youth apprenticeship agreement and pay the apprentice. A business also has to anticipate future entry-level job openings.

“It’s kind of another pathway for students,” said Jeremy Brown, youth apprenticeship teacher coordinator at Frederick County schools.

Traditionally, apprenticeships have been used to train people for trades, such as plumbing or carpentry. The youth program, however, can be done in any workplace. Franklin County, for example, is looking to add employers in areas like computer software and biosciences.

“It’s educating the employers as well” on what they can glean from the program, he said.

Brown and Wendy Moore, apprenticeship coordinator for career and technology education at Washington County Public Schools, said fewer than a dozen students have apprenticeship roles in each of their programs. They’d like to add more.

“We have a lot of student interest,” Moore said. “We’re really looking for employers to come on board.”

Moore said the program is built with a variety of employers in mind. For example, it includes a waiver so students can work with the necessary tools and machinery.

“It allows them to do a little bit more than they would normally do,” he said.

The school systems get information from students interested in participating, advertise apprenticeship openings to students, take applications and submit them to employers.

“The employers follow their regular process,” Moore said.

That process brought Zachary Hill to Beachley Furniture, said Mandy Fiery, the company’s director of human resources.

“It’s been really great teaming up with the Washington County Public Schools,” she said.

“We need it desperately,” she said of the apprenticeship program, noting that few people seem to realize the opportunities for employment in area manufacturing.

“It’s really difficult to get people, especially the younger generation, excited about it. … A lot of them have no idea what we’re all about.”

Fiery said Hill seemed excited.

“He’s been really great,” she said. “He’s got a good attitude.”

Fiery said she “can’t guarantee a job to anyone.” But she added that Hill is learning skills she can use elsewhere, if he doesn’t land at Beachley.

On a recent afternoon, Hill was measuring and slicing sheets of foam cushion to fit furniture frames. For some larger pieces, he used a special spray adhesive to glue together various shapes of foam.

More demanding pieces call for custom cuts, shaping curves and wedges that have to fit. That’s a more demanding chore, he said.

Doub, the VP of upholstery operations, agreed.

“You kind of get a feel for it,” he said.

On the commercial side, many people are cross-trained at different tasks, from working with springs to covering the items with different types of upholstery. Because it’s all custom work, he said, different jobs require different skills.

“That’s why we want to expose (Hill) to a little bit of everything,” Doub said.

Hill said he’s looking forward to it. And, while it’s too early to tell, he can see a future for himself in furniture.

“If they offer me a job, I’ll probably take it,” he said.



What: Youth Apprenticeship Program business open house

When: 4 to 6 p.m., April 12

Where: WCPS, CES Auditorium

RSVP: Wendy Moore, moorewen@wcps.k12.md.us, by April 9

Speaker: Kelly M. Schulz, secretary of the Md. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation