High school students don’t always have access to real-world learning and hands-on training. These kinds of experiences can be invaluable for students when making post-secondary education and career-path decisions. Internship programs that provide such experiences can be beneficial employment recruitment tools for the organizations that extend them and the participating students.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has offered summer internships for high school students for almost all of its 55-year existence. During the 2018-19 academic year, SEPTA welcomed Philadelphia students from three technical schools as part of the High School Business Education Partnership (BEP)—the Authority’s first-ever school-year maintenance program (also the first internship program offered by the SEPTA’s Facilities Maintenance Division). Seven students recently celebrated their graduation from the program — four in Bus Automotive Technology and three in Elevator- Escalator Maintenance.
“The unemployment rate is low right now,” said SEPTA GM Jeffrey D. Knueppel. “I always say SEPTA is competing for customers and employees. As we face an aging workforce and a loss of expertise in our skilled trades, we must engage tomorrow’s workers early on in their education.”
The BEP grant was awarded to Philadelphia Works in partnership with the Philadelphia Youth Network, School District of Philadelphia, SEPTA and Rhoads Industries and designed to give high school students the opportunity to obtain career related work-based learning experiences. Students who met the academic criteria were recommended by their teachers and endorsed by the School District of Philadelphia before being interviewed by SEPTA. From November–May, students worked one eight-hour day a week, from 6 a.m.-3 p.m., and were not allowed to be absent or late more than three times.
“The fact that the students were here at 6 a.m. speaks to their dedication,” said Stephanie Deiger, SEPTA assistant GM of Employee Development and Relations.
Students received classroom and on-the-job training. They were each assigned an instructor as they demonstrated inspections and maintenance procedures for the designated departments. Instructors combined theory and practical applications including electrical and shop safety, usage of hand tools and preventative maintenance inspection training.
All of the program participants may have just found their professional calling. At their program graduation ceremony, students took to the podium to express their gratitude toward SEPTA and the staff, as well as their desire to work for the Authority in the future.
“I enjoyed my time here and I learned a lot from the instructors. It was a good experience.” said David Valentin, a student at Philadelphia’s Jules E. Mastbaum Area Vocational/Technical School who participated in the Automotive Technology Program.
Valentin’s fellow Automotive Technology graduate Angel Maldonado [from A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical High School] took his employment aspirations right to the top, telling GM Knueppel that he was “looking for a career.”
Becoming a full-time SEPTA employee is not an unattainable goal for the graduates. John Miller, the Authority’s Chief Technical Instructor for Bus, still has his 1970 SEPTA student internship identification card. Irving Then, who attended the graduation ceremony, once found himself in the same position at the BEP participants.
“Irving attended our High School Summer Internship Program at our Berridge Shop after graduating from Philadelphia’s Swenson Arts and Technology High School in 2010,” said Miller. “In 2012, Irving was hired as bus apprentice. He successfully completed that program, passed the performance test and was promoted to first class vehicle equipment maintenance mechanic in 2015. Since then, Irving completed Bus HVAC Specialist School and passed the performance test. He was promoted to HVAC specialist in 2017.”
Being involved in partnerships such as BEP helps organizations like SEPTA create pipelines to jobs. The success of these programs relies on the commitment of students and employee instructors.
“The students put in many hours learning about their crafts and are well on their way to becoming the next generation of transportation professionals,” said Knueppel. “The efforts of our Elevator Escalator and Automotive Technology instructors made this program possible. Their support of the students ensures that SEPTA will have a pool of skilled workers ready to join us so that we continue to provide quality transportation to the people of Southeastern Pennsylvania.”
Heather Redfern is the Public Information Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.