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Portage High School senior Trevor Aldridge looks at a radial steam engine on his computer while his instructor, Ben King, observes Thursday in his Principals of Engineering classroom. Aldridge, a CESA 5 Youth Apprentice, last week received the Youth in Manufacturing Award from the Dodge County Manufacturing Business Alliance.

His 40-minute drives to Fall River paid off, and he thinks more underclassmen should know what he didn’t.

“The knowledge and experience I’ve gained at E.K. Machine is priceless,” said Trevor Aldridge, a CESA 5 Youth Apprentice from Portage High School who last week received the Youth in Manufacturing Award from the Dodge County Manufacturing Business Alliance.

Aldridge said he didn’t know what he was getting into when he signed up for the company’s quality assurance apprenticeship in July — not exactly. He’d nearly decided against it, in part because it’s a long drive. Seven months later, his postsecondary options ballooned.

“Your college will look at this highly, and you’ll get a step up on everybody else,” he said of his apprenticeship. “It is by far worth the drive.”

Aldridge was recently accepted to the Milwaukee School of Engineering, where he’ll start school in the fall. Right now, he’s interested in mechanical engineering. He might later narrow his interests to the aerospace field, he speculated. He’s long been interested in joining the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, for example, something he’ll consider during or after college.

“I’ve always loved that idea,” he said of Air Force ROTC.

Tamara Bradley, quality manager at E.K. Machine, nominated Aldridge for the manufacturing award, which does not involve scholarship money but obviously looks good on a job application, as does Aldridge’s work in SkillsUSA, for which he recently took first place for drafting in a competition held in Watertown.

E.K. has two facilities in Fall River — one that does mainly manufacturing, servicing such industries as agriculture in water treatment or in fuel and oil, while its other division does power generation packages, building diesel tanks and enclosures that house backup generators, Bradley explained at a Portage High School career fair. It employs about 130 people, according to its website.

“Trevor is learning and growing skills required of an engineer,” Bradley said in an email. “He has been learning about our manufacturing processes with hands-on application.”

In his day-to-day work at E.K., the senior sees a variety of technical drawings from customers – getting a look at “the entire process from order entry through to shipping, and how all those processes interact,” Bradley continued. “He’s gaining a good understanding of what works on paper and what is practical.”

Said Aldridge: “I get to see the fabrication, painting, welding and CNC (computer numerical control).”

He works at E.K. for about three hours a day after school, Monday through Thursday. His apprenticeship ends in July, but Aldridge plans to stick with the company at least through the summer. His work coincides with his three high school classes led by technology education teacher Ben King: principals of engineering, where Aldridge has worked on projects like dropping an egg from 4 feet, determining how to save it using only paper and rubber bands; architectural drawing; and technical drafting.

“When I’m talking to students about this, I say take a youth apprenticeship,” King said. “If you don’t like it, you’re not out anything. This is your time to explore.

“I did it, and I learned more than I would have in a normal classroom.”

CESA 5 (Cooperative Educational Service Agencies), based in Portage, coordinates the youth apprenticeship program for 22 school districts in its region. The program is part of a statewide school-to-work initiative and integrates school- and work-based learning.

Aldridge is one of 10 Portage High School students enrolled in the program, which this year has placed them in fields of agriculture, manufacturing, construction and transportation, said Shelley Dresher, CESA 5’s work-based learning coordinator.

CESA 5 has 151 students enrolled in the program, overall, which is about triple the amount it had enrolled five or six years ago. Students first apply to the program before accepting training agreements.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students,” Dresher said, adding that one of those 151 students will receive a $750 college scholarship from CESA 5, to be announced later this year.

To learn more about youth apprenticeships, contact Dresher at 608-745-5482 or Interested Portage High School students should talk to counselor Tim Belleau.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter