(Note: This is the first in a series of six stories and videos highlighting the opportunities available to Mobile County Public Schools students in the six pathways to college and career readiness, as defined by the state of Alabama. Look for more stories in the series to be posted in the coming weeks.)
As Chazz Stringer began his senior year at Citronelle High School, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after graduation. Then he learned about an internship and apprentice program at Outokumpu’s stainless steel manufacturing facility in Calvert.
Thanks in part to training received in Citronelle’s Manufacturing, Industry and Technology Academy, including earning an OSHA 10-hour safety card, Stringer was able to turn that opportunity into a full-time job at the facility. Career credentials such as the OSHA card are one of the Alabama Department of Education’s six pathways to college and career readiness, and 10,723 were earned by MCPSS students in the 2015-16 school year.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Stringer said. “At a very young age, I was always working with my hands and I always stayed busy in high school. … My sophomore year, I started in an auto mechanics class, where we were constantly turning a wrench, any type of mechanics on a car. Then my junior year, I went into a half-and-half wood shop and welding class. Whenever I got into the internship, we were constantly welding, cutting with torches, grinders and always hands-on.”
Through the internship, Stringer became enamored with the steel-making process and ultimately took a job at Outokumpu as a crane operator. Now 19, he’s been employed at the mill for 1½ years and is currently working as a caster operator.
“My first day out here they gave us a tour of the shop, and I was really amazed with how the process works. I actually kind of fell in love with it,” Stringer said. “The steel is actually shipped to us in a 180-ton ladle or 200-ton ladle at 1,500 degrees Celsius. So we pour it into a mold and at the end of it, it’s shipped out into a slab.
“I currently see myself maybe in the next year or so being in some type of leadership position. There are multiple jobs that are available at the caster and I’m blessed to be able to do all of them.”
Chris Comstock, manager of human resources at Outokumpu, said the company developed its internship program two years ago. Over a third of the students who have completed it have been hired into full-time jobs there.
“We saw an opportunity where we could transform our internal summer student program and actually meet the needs of Citronelle and Mobile County, but also serve our succession planning needs,” he said. “We’ve had a total of 30 students and out of those 30, we’ve actually hired 11 to full-time operator positions. That’s something we’re really proud of.”
The training received at Citronelle High and the opportunity to earn career credentials such as the OSHA certification eases students’ transition into the working world. Comstock said the Citronelle High grads he’s hired have come with a foundation of skills upon which to build and are ready to work.
“They had the basics as far as welding goes, carpentry, auto tech – which helps with some of our electronics as well – and when they get out here, we put them with mentors in our maintenance group to make sure they’re learning and expanding on those skills they already had in Citronelle,” Comstock said. “You can ask any of the mentors we’ve got, any of the managers, it actually has given us sort of a renewed attitude toward young people. You always hear the negatives about people are entitled or maybe they’re not hard workers. That is definitely not the case with Citronelle. Every one of the ones we’ve had, they will get after it. They work 12-hour shifts, we don’t have any attendance problems and they’ll do whatever they’re asked to do. So far, we haven’t put a task in front of them that they haven’t been able to complete.”
Now, less than two years out of high school, Stringer is now earning a generous salary at a company where he can build a promising career. He encouraged students at his alma mater to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
“Take advantage of the opportunities while you have the chance,” he said. “Math, science, chemistry – it all applies to the real world. You think, when in the world will I use this stuff? Actually, out here, you use it just about every day.”