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A new apprenticeship with the city’s Fleet Service Division is giving three high school students a chance to learn automotive skills on a wide of array of vehicles.

At the same time, the department is grooming potential employees for the shop at a time when a large number of workers are retiring and technology is changing rapidly.

“I thought it sounded like it would be a really great opportunity to diversify my skills,” said Nathaniel Imrie, a Memorial High School junior. “There’s a lot of things here you wouldn’t see anywhere else.”

The other apprentices are Carlos Hernandez and Corbin Schoer, both juniors at La Follette High School.

Randy Koch, shop foreman for fleet service, said the students might be working on a new police car and another time replacing a ball joint on an ambulance.

“It’s different than whatever they’re going to get at school,” he said. “I would have loved that opportunity.”

The fleet service high school apprenticeship program was launched this semester at the division’s central repair shop on North First Street.

The students, who are paired with automotive technician mentors, are learning how to inspect and repair equipment like police squad cars, parks department pickup trucks, engineering cargo vans and fire department ambulances. They also work on abandoned vehicles.

The students are working 10 to 15 hours a week during the semester and earning school credit and $13.01 per hour. The students are expected to continue working through the summer to complete 450 hours.

Mahanth Joishy, who became the city’s fleet superintendent last July, initiated the apprenticeship based on his experience with the New York City Fleet/New York City Department of Education Career and Technical Education partnership. Koch, who graduated from La Follette, has spearheaded the initiative for the city.

Miles Tokheim, technology and engineering teacher at Memorial, is one of several teachers who have been pivotal by encouraging their students to apply for the apprenticeship program, Joishy said. Sherrie L. Stuessy, experiential learning coordinator for the Madison School District, also has been instrumental in the implementation of the program.

Fifteen students applied through the Madison School District’s work-based learning program. They had to be at least 16 years old to be eligible and have met certain requirements regarding grades, disciplinary records and attendance. The highly competitive process included candidates from East and West high schools.

Tokheim said youth traditionally can’t work in the trades before they are 18 because of insurance restrictions but that it’s important to get students experience at an earlier age while they’re still exploring options.

“It’s just incredible how much these kids are learning,” Tokheim said.

Hernandez, who works on cars with his dad, agreed that he has been learning a lot through the apprenticeship.

“They’re wonderful,” Schoer said about working with the mentors. “If I get stuck on something I ask them (for help) and they work it through with me to make sure I get it done right.”

One of the mentors, Mike Dahmen, said he wants to pass on his knowledge and experience and emphasizes to the students that it is a physical job.

“I grew up in a gas station and I had all these other mechanics, many years ago, teach me,” he said. “I want to show them tricks to doing stuff.”

Joishy said the program hopes to bring on more students in the fall and have girls in the mix especially since there are no women working as automotive technicians in the department.

“I really enjoy the youth and energy that they bring,” Joishy said about the apprentices. “They’re the future.”

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that there are no women currently working as automotive technicians in the city’s Fleet Service Division.]