De’Andre Lewis says building and fixing things has always just come naturally to him.

In elementary school, he said he fixed all his classmates’ mechanical pencils, and for that he earned a certificate from the school as “Mr. Fix It.” Now, Lewis is taking that love for tinkering and building into an apprenticeship with Continental Tire the Americas.

Lewis, a Crestwood High School senior, and three other Sumter School District seniors took part Friday in an official “Signing Day” of sorts for a youth apprenticeship program with the major tire manufacturer and Sumter’s largest private-sector employer.

All four students – Lewis, Arianna Ingram, Nigel McDowell and Ashar Rogers – are in the final months of a one-year Introduction to Manufacturing course at Sumter Career and Technology Center. By the time the class is finished, they will have been exposed to training and certifications in occupational safety, forklift operations, soft skills and construction education, according to instructor William Dyson.

Beginning March 2, the foursome will match the job-related education with supervised on-the-job learning at the Sumter plant on U.S. 521 in the afternoons after school, earning $11.15 per hour. (That’s not bad for an afterschool job.)

In the summer after high school graduation, the four will progress to 8-hour shifts in entry-level manufacturing jobs. If all goes well, shortly thereafter they could go full time with Continental at an even higher wage, said company human resources officials, who were on hand for the ceremony at the district’s career and technology center.

The apprenticeship opportunity is part of a statewide program, known as Apprenticeship Carolina, that is associated with the state technical college system and designs a curriculum for companies to help them have the unique opportunity to grow their own workforce.

This is the fourth year of the program at Sumter’s career and technology center. Last year, Continental had nine district student “signees,” and three are in full-time jobs today at the plant, according to career center assistant principal Jill Winter.

Continental Human Resources Manager Ashton Elmore said he was glad to have the partnership and welcomed the four apprentices and soon-to-be graduates into the company’s family.

“We’re so excited about introducing you to our facility and our family,” Elmore said. “You are going to have about 1,300 new family members out there with us at the plant. We’re going to connect you with a career right here in Sumter and teach you how we manufacture tires.”

The foursome donned Continental caps and T-shirts as part of the ceremonial signing.

Lewis said it feels good to be accepted into the opportunity. He added he hopes that soon he can call Continental his career.

Four Crestwood seniors signed on with the manufacturer last year, and Lewis said that influenced him to sign up for the Introduction to Manufacturing course.

“The kids in the program last year said it was a good opportunity, and some are still working there now,” he said. “So, I decided to sign up for the class.”

A total of 12 district seniors are enrolled in the career center course, according to Dyson, the instructor. They all submitted resumes and online applications with Continental in the interview process. The manufacturer interviewed all 12 and had the availability now to hire four on as apprentices.

A fellow Crestwood senior, Arianna Ingram, is the lone female among the signees.

She said she’s still shocked by the opportunity and a “little nervous” still at this point.

Shirrie Miller, the career center director, said she was very thankful to Continental and Apprenticeship Carolina for the partnership opportunity.

She said the center shares with them the common goal of having a sustainable workforce pool for Sumter County.

Brian Rauschenbach, economic development project manager with the Sumter Development Board, was also on hand and encouraged the four students to work hard because they could be “the next leaders in manufacturing in Sumter County.”

“We’re very proud of all of you,” he said. “You have a great career awaiting you with a great company that is here to stay, and you have a pathway forward for future economic independence and success. Thank you for being a part of Sumter, and thank you for being our labor force.”