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Amadas seeks ‘untapped resource’ in CCAP welders

Kylee Joyner and Brittany Chabot are the first two students from the College and Career Academy at Pruden’s welding program to benefit from a new internship opportunity with city-based business Amadas Industries.

Joyner, 19, and Chabot, 18, who graduated high school in June, will start out as interns making $14 per hour with Amadas, a manufacturer of advanced peanut harvesting systems. The company’s corporate headquarters is on Holland Road and has one of its two plants on Kenyon Road. Its other plant is in Albany, Ga.

Both said they are appreciative of an opportunity that isn’t as common for teens coming out of high school. Both also had members of their family who had welding backgrounds.

Chabot’s father, Daniel Chabot, had some influence on his daughter. But even though she loves to weld, it was difficult for her in the beginning.

“My dad, he took me out to the garage and he started welding because he enjoys it,” Chabot said. “And he asked me if I wanted to try it, and I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And it just went off like a rocket.”

Joyner’s grandfather, Theodore Joyner, was the one who fostered his interest in welding. The younger Joyner used to watch him welding as his grandfather shared stories about it.

“Many kids at my age don’t really have an opportunity like this,” Joyner said. “And I find it very interesting for me to have an opportunity to do this.”

Joyner and Chabot will be coming in this summer and working directly in the company’s engineering department with one of its experienced, skilled fabricators. They will slowly grow from specialized weldments and tasks that involve only engineering experimental work, to moving to the production floor by the end of the summer working on the production floor alongside production welders pumping out product.

Jonathan Graham, an engineering manager with Amadas, said the internship program is a “critical spoke” to the company’s operations. The company, which has been in business since 1963 and has products in use locally and globally, relies on each person there to get its peanut-harvesting equipment to harvest for its customers. It makes new equipment and provides support for older machinery.

“It’s going to be a nice, steady progression,” Graham said, “from a shepherding program all the way up into a full-fledged introduction into what a professional welder would see on a day-in, day-out basis.”

Andre Skinner, coordinator of career and technical education and adult education for Suffolk Public Schools, said the internship opportunity is a result of a year-long effort between himself and Graham.

“It was like a match made in heaven,” Skinner said. “This one is very special to us because normally, there would be some type of opportunities for students to have internships throughout our programs, but in an effort to have a paid internship prior to students graduating, and then that internship turning into an opportunity to have a career while you’re still inside the high school arena, was a big effort between Mr. Graham and myself.”

Graham expects the partnership to yield benefits not only to the company but also to CCAP welding students and Suffolk Public Schools.

“As with most industries nowadays, the workforce is very limited,” Graham said, “and we’re looking at, potentially, an untapped resource right here locally in Suffolk. A local company hiring local skilled craftsmen and professionals is a really appealing thing to Amadas.”

Tom Shirk, the welding instructor at CCAP since 1999, is excited about the opportunity his students will have in the future, without having to leave Suffolk.

“The greatest thing about this opportunity is, it is in our backyard,” Shirk said. “It’s here, local. Kids are already going out into the industry and, now you want them to drive 20 miles up to the shipyard? This is real. Some of these kids would ride a bike there if they had to.”

Joyner and Chabot were not simply handed the internships by virtue of being in the welding program. They both had to go through an interview process with both Shirk and Graham to determine what they knew, what skills they needed to know and how he would help them improve. They will work under a senior welder to help further prepare them and make it more job-specific.

Shirk said he focuses on the fundamentals, but he’s also preparing them for a workplace environment.

“One of the main portions of teaching welding is safe operation of equipment and safe behaviors in the environment,” Shirk said. “You can’t be reckless. Kids understand that you can’t be a mess-maker. You have to be able to work independently, accept instruction. All your basic workplace readiness skills, they’re so high on the list.”

The equipment used in the CCAP welding shop is the same students will find on a job site.

“It’s up to par with the industry,” Shirk said. “The kids are learning on the same equipment they’ll be using in the industry.”

Shirk said he is making adjustments to his training program to gear it toward Amadas a little more based on the feedback he’s received from the company.

“Amadas is going to teach them how they want it done, when they want it done,” Shirk said. “My job is just to teach them the equipment so that they’re comfortable where they can start thinking outside the box and accept new instruction.”

Skinner says a key component of this and other programs at CCAP is the workplace readiness skills students get. He sees this partnership expanding over time, with more interns taking part depending on how well Joyner and Chabot do, and the need Amadas has.

Potentially, this partnership could expand to four or six students and incorporate the Nansemond River High School Project Lead the Way engineering program for drafters to generate computer-animated blueprints and drawings.

Graham said the education the CCAP welders are getting “is very fitting to what we do” at Amadas, and sees the internship as a good fit for the company.

“Really, there’s a gem in the rough, so to speak, right here in Suffolk with CCAP,” Graham said, “coming here for the first time and seeing what Mr. Shirk is doing here. It’s very applicable to what we’re doing on the other side of town.”