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Apprentice School, ODU Create Partnership

Old Dominion University and Newport News Shipbuilding have ties dating back to the 1960s, and the 1,000-plus ODU grads at that company are the largest contingency of alumni from any one school.

Last week, those ties just got closer after the region's largest university and the state's largest industrial employer announced a partnership that would streamline workers' paths to a bachelor's degree.

"This is not just a degree program," Everett Jordan, director of education at Newport News Shipbuilding's Apprentice School, said in a statement.

"This program aligns academics with real-life, on-the-job utilization of skills in a 550-acre laboratory."

The primary partners are the apprentice school and ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

Founded in 1919, the apprentice school takes about 250 current and prospective employees annually and offers four- to eight-year tuition-free apprenticeships.

Apprentices work a regular 40-hour week and are paid for all work, the company said, including time spent in academic classes.

If apprentice school graduates wanted to pursue four-year engineering degrees, they had to do it on their time and seek tuition reimbursement. Under the new partnership, that will no longer be the case.

"Now, they can work toward those degrees as part of their apprenticeship," NNS spokeswoman Christie Miller said.

Not only will employees in the new program get paid during tuition-free classes, but they also won't have to travel to ODU. Instruction will be given at the apprentice school, a 90,000-square-foot structure that opened in December.

"The other perks are they're guaranteed a job and they have no student loans," Miller said.

The program will start this fall and officials expect about 12 students in the first cohort. The degree options are mechanical engineering or electrical engineering and students can add a minor in marine engineering to the mix.

Oktay Baysal, dean of ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, said in a phone interview that the individual, the university and the company all stand to benefit.

For employees, he said, the red tape on a path to a bachelor's is slashed tremendously. He also said supplementing apprentice school with a four-year degree will likely increase skills and earning potential.

"They'll become career-ready," Baysal said about apprenticeship graduates. "They can work with their hands, they can build things and they can fix things. But they may not know how to design them, how to analyze them and how to improve them. And that is the engineering piece which comes with the theory."

Company officials said those who matriculate through the program will be employed as engineers and will earn starting salaries of up to $60,000. By comparison, the salary range for apprentice school graduates is $40,000 to $50,000.

Oktay said for the university it will mean greater enrollment and a cohort of students who, given their job attachment, may be highly likely to graduate.

For the company, he said, it adds some certainty to the hiring and recruiting process and also may help bolster a locally sourced workforce-development pipeline.

"Attrition is a problem for any business," he said. "You pay them, they grow with you, they learn a lot of things and then they leave.

"If it's better pay, you can compete with that, but you cannot compete if they want to go home. They're from Ohio, Pennsylvania or some other place and they want to get closer to family. So it makes a lot more sense to educate the individuals who are here already."

Originally appearing in Inside Business at http://insidebiz.com/news/apprentice-school-odu-create-partnership.