Paving a path: Connecticut’s Pre-Apprenticeship high school program

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The apprenticeship program focuses on the importance of safety instruction and the teaching of skills important for a career in construction and other fields.

If someone listened in on students’ conversations with their school counselors while deciding on classes for the next year, they would hear similar stresses being voiced. “Where am I going to college? Am I even ready to go?”

The Connecticut Pre-Apprenticeship high school training program, which is being offered to Staples upperclassmen for a second year, is an alternative to college, where students can learn skills that benefit them beyond an academic career. Pre-registration closes on Feb. 18.

“It’s a direct path to a career, and a direct path to a paying job immediately,” Victoria Capozzi, a Staples school counselor who headed the program last year along with Staples counselor Trish Howells said. “And there’s tons of work available, […] we have a shortage of skilled workforce [in Connecticut] right now.”

The program, which is currently based at Trumbull High School, introduces participants to the carpenters’, iron-workers’, electricians’, operating engineers’ and laborers’ unions, as an alternative track to a traditional two or four year college. 

“It basically gets high school students and very young adults, like recent post-grad kids, to understand what is needed and what it takes in order to apply to an actual apprenticeship in one of the trades,” Capozzi said.

Gianni Decaprio ’22 participated in the program as a junior, where he participated from mid-March through mid-May, learning safety lessons that could ultimately help him save a life working on the job in the future. He wishes to participate in the program again and to meet others who are interested in working with their hands.

“If you are even thinking about it or considering doing it… just do it,” Decaprio said. “It is an experience that not only teaches you about the workforce, but learning how to be mature enough to commit to something and [to take] advantage of [an] opportunity.”

Jeffrey Cathcart, the Director of the Connecticut and Massachusetts Pre-Apprenticeship High School programs, feels that the Connecticut program, which has existed for about five years, is not utilized enough by students, and that there are many benefits to it that a college path after high school could not provide.

“We call it ‘earn while you learn’. You get paid to be there, […] and then when you go to work, you have a guaranteed rate of pay […],” Cathcart said. “You have guaranteed rate increases, and you have guaranteed benefits, such as a pension and annuity, and healthcare.”

We call it ‘earn while you learn’. You get paid to be there, […] and then when you go to work, you have a guaranteed rate of pay […]. You have guaranteed rate increases, and you have guaranteed benefits, such as a pension and annuity, and healthcare.”

— Jeffrey Carthcart

Students who do the program have the chance to earn certain certifications, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10-hour training, flagging for roads and CPR/first aid certification.

While the program is a pathway to apprenticeship programs,there are aspects that resemble a college campus experience.

“If you were to look at, say, the laborers center in Pomfret, Connecticut, you would think you were on a college campus […],” Cathcart said. “It’s a building with dormitories and cafeterias and classrooms and recreation areas, and everything that you would have at a college or university, with the exception of tuition.”

The Pre-Apprenticeship website is filled with success stories from previous participants, who have achieved licenses, internships and started full-time careers because of their participation in the program. 

Cathcart himself went to school to be an architect, but ended up working for his friend’s dad’s excavation company during the summers, and he ended up going back to school for civil engineering.

“Had I never met my friend, I would have never met their father,” Cathcart said. “I would have never gone to work in that industry, which became my career. And that’s what we’re trying to do, to show people something that they may not know.”