Aiken Tech’s Post ChalleNGe gives students careers, ‘second chance’
GRANITEVILLE — The speed with which graduates of the POST ChalleNGe program at Aiken Technical College get jobs tells the story of the grant-sponsored initiative’s success.
About 70 percent of the cadets are employed within 30 days after graduation, said Larry Snipes, the program site director at the S.C. Youth Challenge Academy POST ChalleNGe program. At least 50 percent get jobs in five high-demand fields in which they trained at ATC: computer networking, patient care assistant, tower technology, production operator and welding.
“We had one one man in tower tech, 17 years of age with a GED, who, two hours after graduation from Aiken Tech, was offered a job by a tower company in Lexington,” Snipes said. “The last I heard, he was clearing about $2,000 every two weeks.”
Even cadets who do not complete the program for health or family reasons still find jobs, Snipes said.
“They have skills that make them employable, which is the ultimate goal for us anyway,” he said.
Thursday, 20 cadets graduated after 20 weeks of occupational training in the program’s sixth class at ATC.
Over three years, 270 cadets started the program, and 148 graduated, Snipes said.
Cadets chosen for the POST ChalleNGe came from across the state for job training at ATC after completing their GEDs at the S.C. Army National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe Academy based at McCrady Training Center in Eastover. Some finished their GEDs at ATC. While at ATC, the cadets lived at Camp Long.
About a third of the cadets have had interactions with the courts, Snipes said. Others have had educational and home-life challenges.
“The idea that they were going to be any kind of success in the future was remote for them in their view,” Snipes said. “We were able to give them the training, which built in them some of the confidence they needed to go out and get a job. Some of them, at the same time, told us they never saw themselves going to college. But after the program, they said they believed that they could and continued their college educations.”
Some cadets remained at ATC. Others went to USC Aiken and USC Upstate, Snipes said.
Gemma Frock, who helped implement and oversee the program at ATC, said the young men and women in the POST ChalleNGe received a “second chance.”
“Many of these young people started turning themselves around when they were at the Youth Challenge Academy, and when they graduated from here, they were transformed,” said Frock, ATC’s vice president of Institutional Effectiveness and Accreditation. “Many of them went on to enlist in active military duty. Others continued their educations, and others went on to seek employment in the field in which they graduated from.”
Frock said the POST ChalleNGe matched ATC’s mission.
“We’re an open-door institution. We provide opportunities for economic and workforce development, and that’s what we’ve given these young people,” she said.
Funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor as a demonstration program for three years, the POST ChalleNGe will continue in a modified 15-week format at ATC for one more semester in the spring.
The National Guard Bureau will continue to fund the program through the Youth Challenge Academy at a different location starting in July 2019, Snipes said.
The POST ChalleNGe program is a collaborative effort among the S.C. Army National Guard, ATC, Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute Camp Long facility, Lower Savannah Council of Governments’ Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Aiken County Public School District.