BY ROXANA BOYD
On Feb. 22, the Chamber for a Greater Chapel-Hill Carrboro launched the Summer Careers Academy, a new apprenticeship program that will connect young adults with local employers for eight weeks of career training. This summer, the “Building Our Future” inaugural program in Orange County will facilitate apprenticeships in the construction trades. Leaders plan to expand to other industries, such as health care and technology, and nearby counties in the coming years.
The vision for Summer Careers Academy stemmed from Chapel Hill Town Council Member Tai Huynh’s work with the local refugee community. In March 2021, he brought together a working group of employers, education institutions, government entities, and other volunteers. This coalition formed a steering committee that designed the program with an emphasis on supporting low-income students, students of color, and those from refugee and migrant families.
Participants in the apprenticeship program will receive credit and credentials toward careers in skilled trades – and a learning wage of $12 an hour. Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) fully endorses the $12 learning wage because it provides greater access to apprenticeships for students of all incomes, says OCLW Co-Founder Susan Romaine.
“We often hear about unpaid internships and apprenticeships as great opportunities for students to network, get on-the-job experience, and build their resumes,” says Romaine. “But not everybody can afford unpaid internships and apprenticeships. Many high school students work to contribute to the family’s monthly expenses; or, perhaps they are saving for a car or even college.”
Romaine says OCLW is thrilled that the Summer Careers Academy will encourage participating employers to hire students after their completion of the program and pay a living wage of $15.85 an hour.
“These employers become a pipeline for living wage jobs for future graduates of this apprenticeship program,” says Romaine. “We hope these employers will join our roster of certified living wage employers along the way.”
From construction firms to nonprofits, more than a dozen employers have signed up to host students this summer for pathways in carpentry, plumbing, electrical, masonry, and heating and air conditioning.
“We’ve been hearing a growing chorus of recognition that we need to train young folks in the trades,” says Mark Marcoplos, owner of Marcoplos Construction and a former Orange County Commissioner. “It is a very viable career pathway as an alternative to the academic path.”
Summer Careers Academy offers multiple ways for employers and community members to get involved. More information, including student application forms, can be found on the website. The program will run from June 14 through Aug. 5.