Evan Legate, a student at Henderson County High School, participates in the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth apprenticeship program, which allows him to earn hours toward becoming a journeyman tool and die maker while earning his high school diploma.

When he started his junior year at Henderson County High School, Evan Legate wanted to make a change in his life.

He approached his career and technical education (CTE) teacher, Steve Welch, and asked if he could transfer to an alternative program to finish school while he worked full time.

“It was not the right place for him,” said Welch.

Instead, Welch encouraged Legate to go through the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth apprenticeship program so he could still work, but also stay in school. Not only is this option allowing Legate to earn his high school diploma, he is also earning hours for his apprenticeship to become a journeyman tool and die maker.

“I love it,” said Legate.

The TRACK youth apprenticeship program is a partnership between the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education and the Kentucky Office of Apprenticeship to provide secondary students with career pathway opportunities into Registered Apprenticeship programs. It is a business and industry driven program designed to create a pipeline for students to enter post-secondary apprenticeship training. Students receive a nationally recognized credential at little or no cost.

Employers tailor the program for their specific needs and select the CTE courses for the apprenticeship pathway. This creates a competitive recruiting environment of future employees grounded in strong technical and professional skills.

Legate goes to school each weekday morning for core classes like math and english, then leaves around 11:20 a.m. to go to his apprenticeship.

“Who doesn’t like leaving school early?” he said as he shared a laugh with Welch. “I think this is the best thing that any kid can do as long as they’re willing to work. It’s given me a two-year jump start on what I would have to be doing after I graduate.”

Welch and Legate estimate Evan will be about halfway done with the apprenticeship requirement by the time he graduates at the end of this school year.

Welch said anywhere from 100 to 160 kids go through cooperative work-based learning programs with companies in the school district, giving students hands-on experience in several different career paths. Legate is the only student in the manufacturing technology youth apprenticeship program this year.

He is also the first student to earn apprenticeship hours through night classes with adult machinists. Welch said Legate’s bosses at Royster’s Machine Shop in Henderson recommended the night classes so he could get more hours done before graduating high school and becoming a full-time employee.

The youth apprenticeship program can be enticing for students who are eager to join the workforce, but otherwise might not be motivated to finish school, Welch said. It came at a pivotal time for Legate, too.

“It honestly made me want to stay in school,” said Legate.

Associate Commissioner Beth Hargis of KDE’s Office of Career and Technical Education said Legate’s story is the perfect example of the benefits the TRACK youth apprenticeship presents to students.

“As educators, our main goal is to give students as many tools as possible to pursue their dreams after they graduate,” said Hargis. “We believe TRACK is a great way to achieve this goal, and it also allows our schools and local employers to work together to ensure we have a strong workforce.”