COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina is the first state in the nation with a paid bus shop apprenticeship program that gives high school students a paying job, class credit, and hands-on job experience.

The program is up and running in only four of the state’s 50-plus school bus maintenance shops, but state education superintendent Molly Spearman hopes to expand it statewide. She says, “We were just talking a few months ago about how difficult it is to get bus mechanics, and also the importance of having students getting hands-on experience, so we came up with the idea: why don’t we do this in our bus shops?”

Kobe Amaker, an 18-year-old senior at Dreher High in Columbia, is one of the first apprentices in the program. “Doing this, it’s a good result in itself. If I graduate and start right now I’d be making decent money doing this, good money, actually,” he says.

Spearman says it’s also part of an effort to provide more alternatives for students who are not interested in going to college. “Our goal now is to really match what students’ passion, what their talents are, what they’re interested in, what the workforce needs,” she says.

Joshua Benton, a 17-year-old senior at Lower Richland High in Columbia, is another apprentice in the program. He’s always liked fixing things and plans to be either a diesel mechanic or work on airplanes. The apprenticeship is for students in diesel or automotive technology programs, and Benton says it’s given him new confidence for when he starts looking for a job. “I wouldn’t have the knowledge that I would have right now if it wasn’t ’cause of this summer thing,” he says.

The students can work full-time during the summer and keep working part-time once school starts.

Amaker and Benton say one of the most surprising things has been the age of some of South Carolina’s buses. One in their shop is 21 years old, which is older than they are. “They told me when we first started how old these buses were,” Amaker says. “I didn’t believe it.”