Six youth apprentices holding a certificate.

On November 13th, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) kicked off a celebration of National Apprenticeship Week by hosting a special “Youth Can Do It” event. National Apprenticeship Week is an annual celebration that highlights the importance and benefits of apprenticeship programs across various industries.

During the “Youth Can Do It” event, SVHEC and IALR shined a spotlight on the benefits of apprenticeship and celebrated the students, employers, and educational partners who are making apprenticeships work in Southern Virginia. Six SVHEC Career Tech Academy students who are completing registered apprenticeships with local employers were recognized:

  • Tristan Anderson and Camren Jefferson—Comfort Systems USA MidAtlantic
  • Kolby Lane and Jacob Brame–Hitachi Energy
  • Logan Smith–Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative
  • Bruce Murray—SVHEC ProductWorks

As apprentices, these high school students receive paid on-the-job-training as well as classroom instruction at SVHEC and mentorship. At the end of their registered apprenticeship, they will receive a nationally recognized certification.

“My favorite part about being an apprentice is that I get to learn new things about the job every day,” said Tristan Anderson, a Halifax County High School senior who completed level one welding training in the SVHEC’s Career Tech Academy during his junior year.

 “I’m also learning what the safety culture should be because at ComfortSystems we have a great safety team who make sure we’re safe and who always keep up to date with new procedures. I plan on staying with ComfortSystems after high school and hopefully returning to college for welding or something like that,” Anderson continued.

Information Technology apprentice Logan Smith stated, “I learn so much information especially about the technology, and I just love working with the people at Mecklenburg Electric. They’re very enjoyable and fun to be around.”

Apprenticeship Coordinator NaTori Neal with ComfortSystems leadership and their 2 apprentices.

During the event, IALR Apprenticeship Coordinator NaTori Neal provided an overview of registered apprenticeships and the benefits it offers to students and employers.  “Apprentices are employees from day one. They receive structured on-the-job training, related technical training, and a nationally recognized credential. It’s a great opportunity to learn from someone who’s actually doing the job while you’re on the job. For employers, apprenticeship is customizable, an early connection to a diverse pool of talent, and a way to improve your retention rate.”

Ryland Clark, Community Relations Engagement Manager for Hitachi Energy, spoke about the positive experience the company is having with their apprenticeship program. “We provide mentorship but we’ve also seen some reverse mentoring because sometimes the latest and greatest techniques and methods of doing things come out of these programs. They’re teaching our employees and then we’re teaching them and together it’s really creating a strong partnership.”

Clark also shared that the ability to retain apprentices has been an asset to Hitachi Energy. “It’s really hard to keep interns, but this has been a great experience and a lot more successful for us being able to retain talent long term.”

After recognizing the student apprentices, Natori Neal was joined on stage by Jessie Vernon, IALR Advanced Learning Program Manager, to present IALR’s Expanding Talent through Registered Apprenticeship (ExTRA) partner awards. Comfort Systems USA MidAtlantic was awarded the 2023 Outstanding Partner Award, and SVHEC received the Youth Apprenticeship Champion award. Later in the week, IALR also awarded ExTRA partner awards to Southside Mechanical Services for Model Sponsor, to the Danville Life Saving Crew for Innovative Apprenticeship Program, and to Spitzer Inc. for Excellence in Employee Development.

Neal encouraged everyone in attendance to continue moving youth apprenticeship forward, stating, “We all play a role in making sure apprenticeship opportunities exist.”

Among its many programs to transform Southern Virginia’s economy, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va., serves as a state-recognized apprenticeship intermediary for the GO Virginia Region 3 footprint. IALR apprenticeship staff provide technical assistance to individuals and employers who wish to pursue a registered apprenticeship. Grant funding is available to help employers with apprentice training costs. For more information contact NaTori Neal at 434-766-6657 or

About the Career Tech Academy | View all event photos here