After two years of hard work, 2020 Mount Tahoma graduate Stephen Gichuru holds a hefty pile of accomplishments, including one no one else in the state has earned.
Gichuru became the first high school student in Washington to earn an automotive service technician certification through the state’s apprenticeship program.
Life is looking pretty good for this 18-year-old.
Full time job? Check.
No post-secondary education debt? Check.
Professional credential recognized across the country? Check.
“I took a chance, and this chance has changed my life. It’s given me a career,” Gichuru said in a virtual event celebrating his feats, where he received praise from Tacoma elected officials, and his employer, Titus-Will Ford of Tacoma.
Gichuru worked toward his goal for the last two years, meticulously following the state’s guidelines with the help of his support team from the district’s Career and Techical Education Department and Titus-Will. Those guidelines include 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training at Titus-Will and 144 hours of related supplemental instruction from his Mount Tahoma auto shop instructor, Issac Juma.
“My biggest goal is to guide students to become productive members of society,” Juma told Gichuru during the virtual event. “You, by far, are my biggest success.”
Tacoma’s apprenticeship program is part of the district’s robust CTE Department, which has committed to ensuring each student is ready for life after high school.
“We want to set students up for success,” said apprenticeship coordinator Jeff Klancke. “We tell them, ‘Do something; don’t wait for it to happen to you.’”
Those “somethings” include a lot of options to get an advantage, like a summer job partnership, an internship program and seven career certification options, including certified nursing assistant and electrician.
Growing the TPS apprenticeship program is a big focus for Klancke, who sees it as the gold standard for setting up students for long-term success.
“When you have a successful apprenticeship, you already have a job to journey into. There’s no downside to that, whether you choose to stay in that career or use it as a springboard to something else,” he said.
Getting employers to commit to having an apprentice can be a challenge because of the long-term commitment on the employer’s part, but Klancke hopes Gichuru’s success with Titus-Will will pave the way for others.
Representatives from the dealership agree.
“There’s a huge demand for automotive technicians. We have great training and support from our organization,” said Titus-Will Service Manager Ricky Saly. “I’m excited to guide our future prospects and watch them grow.”
Service Director Shannon Sam noted that – automotive knowledge aside – learning to navigate the workplace is a skill in its own right, one that Gichuru mastered.
“I really enjoyed watching a kid come from school as a junior and realize what it’s like to go through a professional work environment,” Sam said. “Everyone counts on you to be there and be part of the team. Those were the most important things for him to learn early on, and he did a great job.”
Value of partnership
Among the people who joined the virtual celebration of Gichuru’s accomplishments, and the work it took to achieve it, was Tacoma’s Deputy Mayor Keith Blocker.
“I’m extremely excited and pleased to see that the public and private sectors have come together to help and enhance the quality of life of our young people,” Blocker said. “This kind of partnership enhances quality of life and improves our community when we have young people who have skills, who practice trades. It helps create employment opportunities and so many different things for our community.”
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...