Meet Ashlee Flowers

Ashlee Flowers brings a wealth of work experience and skills to her position as a mechanic apprentice for Port Houston. After high school she worked as a cook and in the healthcare industry. She was intrigued when she learned about Job Corps and was accepted into a program in Kentucky where she learned a variety of technical skills including welding. After completing the program she went on to become an ASE certified welder through a local trade school and worked as a rail car mechanic. She was looking for a better, different opportunity with more room for advancement. Her uncle who was a longshoreman encouraged her to apply for the Port Houston apprenticeship program.

Even though Ashlee is one of only a few women working in skilled trades at the port, she says the men welcomed her into the department pretty quickly. “Everyone here is treated the same. Guys might not have known quite what to expect having a women mechanic working alongside them, but they got over any nervousness they might have had in a month or two — I had no problem from day one!,” she laughs.

Ashlee enjoys the wide variety of work she gets to do on a daily basis, learning from the 20 experienced mechanics at the port terminal’s shop who serve as mentors. “We service all of the port’s vehicles from top loaders and trucks to lawn mowers, working right alongside senior mechanics. It’s a great way to assist them and learn new skills every day through hands-on experience,” says Ashlee. She particularly likes getting to work with a variety of mentors but having enough dedicated time to work with each mentor from start to finish on a project.

When she’s completed her apprenticeship with the port Ashlee will have earned her DOL Journeyman credential as well as an academic certificate from San Jacinto College. If Ashlee chooses to complete her A.A.S. degree, Port Houston will provide more than $5,000 in tuition reimbursement toward the cost of courses.

Meet Megan McCullar

Like many students, Megan McCullar didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school. “I was always told the goal was to go to college so I figured that was what I’d do,” says Megan. After graduating from Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, Virginia she enrolled at Tidewater Community College (TCC) but “wasn’t sure why."

Megan was 19 when she heard about the registered apprenticeship program at BAE Systems from a friend. “I didn’t know anything about the program or shipyards but when he said I could do hands-on work there I was interested.”

After submitting an online application for the apprenticeship program Megan was invited to take a placement test at TCC and then complete a physical exam. Alan Walker, former Manager of the Apprentice Program at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair explains, “The placement test allows us to determine if apprentice applicants meet the minimum requirements we have for math, reading, and writing, and the physical ensures they’re ready for the physical environment they’ll be working in.”

During BAE’s four-year registered apprenticeship program Megan worked a regular shift learning a trade at the shipyard and then completed classes at TCC at night as part of the program's required related technical instruction (RTI). The courses were part of TCC's National Science Foundation Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Center Maritime Technologies pathway. The SMART Center is the only NSF Advanced Technology Education (ATE) Center in the U.S. solely focused on equipping technicians like Megan with the knowledge, skills and credentials to enter and succeed in teh maritime and transportation industry.

As a result of the collaboration between TCC, the SMART Center and its Maritime Technologies Consortium and BAE, Megan was able to receive academic credit for her RTI. By the end of the apprenticeship program Megan earned Career Studies Certificate in Maritime Technologies from TCC as well as a Journeyman Mechanic card, which is a registered credential from the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) that is recognized by industry employers nationwide.

With a portable, nationally-recognized Journeyman credential Megan is able to move and work anywhere in the U.S. and be paid a competitive salary.

Megan sees her future as filled with possibility. “Every day I see people at the shipyard moving up quickly to positions of greater responsibility and pay. I know I’ll have the same opportunity.” Alan notes that within the last four years more than 50% of apprentices program graduates have been promoted within a year of their graduation. “It’s really a career path that Megan’s on, and apprenticeship graduation is just beginning,” he says.

Megan encourages students to look into the maritime and transportation industry and registered apprenticeship programs. “It used to be that getting a four-year college degree guaranteed you a job, but now it’s a gamble,” she says. “You invest a lot of time and money but after graduation you might not have anything to show for it.” She encourages students, teachers, and parents to expand their thinking about career pathways. “Too many kids think that you’re not going anywhere in life if you don’t go to 4-year college straight out of high school, but that’s not the truth. Becoming a registered apprentice means you have a job, earn a paycheck, and have your education paid for. It’s a great path for a lot of students and workers looking for better opportunities.”

(profile information and photo courtesy of the TCC NSF ATE SMART Center -

Meet David Tong

If you want a living definition of the word “dedication” it’s David Tong. David immigrated to the United States in 1995 from Vietnam. “My father was an electrical engineer who was sponsored to work in the U.S. as a carpenter,” explains David. “When we arrived I didn’t speak any English so I began working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant.” For the next 14 years he worked tirelessly eventually becoming a manager.” After a full day at work David took night classes to learn English. When the restaurant’s management changed hands everyone lost their job. David wasn’t worried.

“A friend’s cousin worked at Auxiliary Systems and told me about the company’s apprenticeship program. I had learned a lot of maintenance and repairman skills so I applied for a job as electrician.”  Today David is a graduate of the company's registered apprenticeship program at Auxiliary Systems, a depot level ship repair facility in Norfolk, Virginia.

Through the program David earned a full-time salary and benefits while receiving on-the-job training in skilled trades vital to the maritime industry. He also attended Tidewater Community College (TCC) for required related technical instruction (RTI) at night as part of the program. His courses at TCC were part of the college's National Science Foundation Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Center Maritime Technologies pathway. The SMART Center is the only NSF Advanced Technology Education (ATE) Center in the U.S. solely focused on equipping technicians like David with the knowledge, skills and credentials to enter and succeed in the maritime and transportation industry.

As a result of the collaboration between TCC, the SMART Center and its Maritime Technologies Consortium and his employer David was able to receive academic credit for his RTI. That enabled him to graduate the program with two college Career Studies Certificates (in Maritime Technologies and Marine Electrical) from TCC and academic credits toward an A.A.S. degree in Maritime Technologies. In addition to obtaining credits toward his college degree, he earned the nationally-recognized Virignia DOLI (Department of Labor and Industry) Journeyman’s certification which ensures a higher rate of pay and increases his marketability to employers nationwide.

John Moore, Director of Training for Auxiliary Systems, explains why the firm invests in workers like David by paying for a college education as part of the registered apprenticeship program. “Workers who are dedicated to learning not just the ‘how’ of doing a job but also the ‘why’ are valuable to a company. These employees work hard on the job and in the classroom which demonstrates commitment and dedication,” he explains. “With the majority of skilled tradesmen retiring in the next 5-10 years we need people to be able to fill those positions and we want them to come up through the ranks.”

These days, instead of washing dishes David is most often working on Department of Defense contracts that support the U.S. Navy.  “I love my job. It’s very hands on and it’s a much better schedule so I have more time with my family,” he says. I also I have the opportunity to do different work almost every day!”

In addition to working as an electrician David is now trained to work as a rigger and boiler mechanic. He enjoys working with different people in each shop; a typical shift for David is 6:30 am to 3:30 pm and he occasionally works on weekends.  He regularly encourages others at his company to become an apprentice. “It’s a great opportunity that’s changed my career,” he says.

John says that the apprenticeship program is for workers who are willing to take on more responsibility and who want a promising career pathway. “We offer our workers who come on board in entry level positions the opportunity to apply for the apprenticeship program after demonstrating a good work ethic for their first 90 days. This program is a great pathway to a promising future. Typically, employees that can manage to work full time and graduate from the program show that they have what it takes to become a future leader in the industry.”

(profile information and photo courtesy of the NSF ATE Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Center -