Three students at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center will graduate from their home schools next week – and just as importantly, they will have the opportunity this summer to complete in an apprenticeship through MTU America.


Two years ago, the Graniteville-based plant, which builds large diesel engines, introduced the apprenticeship program for high school students – modeled after the popular program used at MTU’s lead company in Germany.


The three seniors – Caleb Dyer, Dustin Swygert and Tyler Temples – have spent part of each month at MTU. They will complete 1,000 hours this summer and will participate in a ceremony of recognition for their work.


Six juniors are finishing their first apprentice year. Six sophomores have been chosen to begin their apprenticeships in the fall, said Brooks Smith, the Career Center director.


“We’re looking at work-based opportunities in all our programs, such as heating and air and machine tools,” he said. “We’re thankful for what MTU does, so we can bring students to come out and learn their business.”


Nigeria Williams, a rising senior in the program, got an unexpected opportunity earlier this month. The young woman visited MTU to share her experiences with about 90 high school freshman girls from six schools, who were there for a tour and other activities. In 2013, Williams was interviewed for a short video produced by The New York Times in recognizing such a unique concept within the U.S.


During lunch, nearly a dozen women employed at MTU talked to the students about their wide range of jobs – among them Arjonetta Gilliard, the senior human resources generalist.


“This is great,” she said. “Some of our employees on the floor said they had never done anything like this (as kids). We don’t have any problem with recruiting males, so we wanted to focus on the girls today and get some hands-on activities.”


The girls did just that. In groups of three, they had to build small cars with precise manufacturing parts they had to figure out. The goal was to release the cars on a downhill “road” and not running into obstacles on the shoulders.


“I was open to anything,” said Sydney Williams, a Midland Valley High School freshman. “I like building things, but the time limit is a challenge. But we had a great time. I’d never thought about engineering before, but my dad works for Proctor and Gamble.”


A lot of Silver Bluff students looked at the event as a day out of school, said Silver Bluff High School guidance counselor Gail Hicks.


“But they have become very engaged and have asked pointed questions about career opportunities and internships,” she said.


In recent years, the Career Center has offered an introductory program for 10th-graders. They can visit the facility and take preliminary classes in six areas – such as electricity, welding, megatronics and health science.


“We want to match the industry needs in the area, as we try to assist workforce development,” Smith said.


Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter.