The apprenticeship program at Hillyard Technical Institute has signed 27 new students to partner with area employers for the spring, ranging from manufacturing and auto repair to nursing.

Mid-Buchanan junior Kade Conaway is apprenticing as a welder with Gray Manufacturing. The signing earlier this week was a big moment to share with his family, Conaway said.

“They’re 100% for it,” he said. “We celebrated last night when we got home, they took me out to dinner, so they’re 100% proud of me and proud of going somewhere in life.”

Conaway took an interest in welding while growing up on a farm, so being able to turn it into a job is exciting, he said.

“It’s just something I’ve really enjoyed so far, working here,” Conaway said. “It gets me pretty excited to see, kind of, where I’ll go in life, you know?”

Working with the apprenticeship program provides security, whether that’s going directly to the workforce or into college, said DeKalb junior Landon Williams.

“When summer comes around I’ll work full time, but right now I’ve been part time,” he said. “But it adds a good level of security, I’d say, probably the best way (to put it).”

Williams works as a computer numbers control operator with Envision Tech. CNC operators use computer machinery to mass produce items at higher precision than would otherwise be achievable. Williams expects his role to mainly include shaving down imperfections, or burrs, on parts that have already been made, he said.

Envision Tech general manager Brandon Safley believes it’s extra important to pay the effort forward because he was hired thanks to education received at Hillyard, Safley said.

“This is an extra opportunity that they get, that not all of the students get through high school, and to have all the surrounding high schools be able to, you know, put something into this and involve their children in a possible career,” he said. “I mean, it may not be for everyone, but that opportunity there is really good to have.”

Hillyard also is an opportunity to meet students from several schools in the area, Williams said.

“It’s nice,” he said. “You get a variation of people ... It’s good networking.”

Students in the program this year come from St. Joseph and Buchanan County, but also as far away as Plattsburg and King City.

Alex Simone can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @NPNOWSimone.

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