After submitting his application, SAT scores and letters of recommendation, Farrar was invited to interview. Interviews for The Apprentice School are conducted by faculty members. “My dad took me there after school one day. We drove down there. I was nervous before the interview because I wasn’t sure what kind of questions they would ask. But everything played out well. They’re very nice people, the atmosphere is very relaxed, and it’s just a one-on-one interview,” he remembers.
Approximately one month after completing the application process, Farrar was accepted to The Apprentice School as an X22 Pipefitter Apprentice.
“I remember the exact second. I was sitting on the couch at my mom’s house when I got an email from The Apprentice School. I opened the attachment and there was my acceptance letter.”
The Apprentice School and Fishburne share common values
Transitions can be tough for students after high school. Fortunately for Farrar, the transition from Fishburne Military School to The Apprentice School was a natural one.
“Fishburne 100% gave me a leg up,” Farrar recalls. “Fishburne taught me a lot and I grew up a lot quicker as far as developing leadership skills go. There are a lot of leadership opportunities at The Apprentice School and discipline is held up to a very high standard. It’s very similar, in that way, to being at Fishburne.”
Another familiar concept Farrar encountered at The Yard, as apprentices often refer to the Apprentice School and Newport News Shipbuilding, was that of living and working in a meritocracy.
“If you put in the effort and make sure you pay attention, you will fit right in. There is a lot of guidance along the way and there are tons of opportunities, and you can ask anyone questions. You’re not going to be blindsided by anything because your supervisors will give you a heads up about anything that is going on.”
For Farrar, there was one more, very important similarity between life at FMS and life at The Yard. Tyler Allen, FMS Class of 2017, and fellow Caisson’s wrestler had just completed his first year at Apprentice School when Farrar was accepted to the program. Allen invited him to be his roommate. “It was awesome to know somebody already here. I moved in with him and that helped tremendously. I came down a week before my start date so he could show me around and show me where I needed to report.”
Moving into an apartment with a friend from high school, studying the class schedule, learning the campus layout, gearing up for your sport… it all sounds like an ordinary experience for any college freshman. At The Apprentice School, however, Farrar is quick to point out, “…at 7 a.m., the minute you step in for orientation, you start getting paid.”
Your first week at The Apprentice School
Orientation week at The Apprentice School is a busy mix of academic evaluations and Human Resources in-processing. “The first day was pretty crazy. We went around the room, and everyone introduced themselves and gave a little background story. They had all the teachers in there as well and they all did their own PowerPoint presentations. Advisors came in to talk to anyone from out of state. We’re under a union contract, so people from the union came in to talk to us. That day, people from all around The Apprentice School and The Yard give you a rundown of everything that’s going to happen and what you will be required to do.”
Matthew’s first year at The Apprentice School
The first year of an apprentice’s time at The Yard is dedicated to academics. Classes are held from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. two days a week. Following classes, those involved in a sport report to their teams.
Upon completion of their classroom requirements, apprentices spend their remaining time in the program learning to master their individual trades in a hands-on environment.
For Farrar, nearing the end of his apprenticeship, the day starts early.
On a typical day, he arrives to The Yard around 6:15 a.m. and makes his way to his team’s Conex where the crew meets to start each day. At this time the team supervisor briefs everyone on the tasks to be accomplished, distributes any mechanical drawings, equipment lists and pairs up each apprentice with a “mate” who will be their partner for the day.
“Then,” Farrar explains simply, “we go to the boat and go to work.” As a pipefitter, work for Farrar means installing or overhauling all piping systems on a submarine or carrier. An immense task, to be sure, requiring high levels of organization, skill and focus.
Looking toward his future
Looking to the future beyond his apprenticeship, Farrar aspires to remain at Newport News Shipbuilding in a supervisory role, helping to organize projects and mentor future apprentices.
Unlike most 21-year-olds about to emerge from under-graduate programs, Farrar is established and confident in his career and enjoys the security of knowing he has realistic and lucrative options. “People should really learn to look at the bigger picture when they think about their path. They should ask themselves ‘If I was at a university, for four years or however long I’m there, what are my plans going to be for after that?’”
“A trade is something you will carry with you for the rest of your life,” he says. “If I decide that I want to work here for the rest of my career, then I have every opportunity to do so.”
Many who could benefit are hampered by misconceptions
Although apprenticeships are on a sharp rise across the country, Farrar knows that many who could benefit greatly from the experience are hampered by the lingering misconceptions about the value of an apprenticeship versus a four-year degree.
“When people think about an apprenticeship, they really don’t have enough information to know if it’s the right thing for them or not. There just is not enough coverage about apprenticeships and I feel like people should keep their options open.”
“I think this path can be good for anyone. It’s just a matter of being willing to learn and enjoying working with your hands.”