Almost always, high school kids are encouraged to pursue a college degree immediately after graduation.

That causes a decline in the trade job workforce. Electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and many other careers are now seeing a gap in incoming workers.

"We've got more people retiring than we've got coming in, and that creates that skills gap," said Jereme Montgomery, business development manager for Stephens & Smith Construction.

After seeing that gap develop over time, Jereme and others at Stephens & Smith came up with an apprenticeship program to get young people hands on experience in these fields before they graduate.

Kids like Carter Sullivan, who says the experience he's gained so far can't be taught in a classroom.

"In high school you don't really get exposed to any work type experience, its mostly just study, and study some more, and take a test, and this is definitely way different than that," Sullivan said.

At just 17 years old, he'll spend his summer in Stephens & Smith's apprenticeship program, learning about the field he's interested, all the while gaining school credit and earning a paycheck.

Jereme Montgomery says this program is a vital way to let young people know what else is out there.

"It's more than just swinging a hammer - there's also management, there's also equipment, there's also materials...there's a lot of things in our industry that we need people to do," Montgomery said.

Jason Harlow began Stephens & Smith's apprenticeship program after he'd already begun working for the company.

He says the knowledge he's gained is invaluable as he continues to grow in his career.

"I have a thirst for knowledge," Harlow said, "and when you're doing construction you don't really see that. Behind the scenes, there's a lot more."

Organizers of the apprenticeship program say continuing to reach out to kids at the high school, and even middle school level, is crucial as they work to breathe new life into a necessary job field.

"I think it's strictly awareness," Montgomery said. "There's kids in middle school right now that love building with their hands; those are the kids we need to get to."

The apprenticeship program is only in it's second year of existence, and the only one of it's kind as the only merit-based concrete subcontractor with a federally approved apprenticeship program in the State of Nebraska.

To find out more, visit Stephens & Smith's website at