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Academy pays students out of high school to learn trade skills

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — With more high schoolers looking at other options besides college, choosing careers in skilled trades is possible with one academy wanting to train the next generation for the trades.

Peterman Top Tech Academy, which is on the city’s southeast side, focuses on heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and plumbing. They offer a four-month training program with the promise for immediate employment upon completion by the Greenwood-based company Peterman Brothers. The academy is free. It even weekly pays students $17 an hour while they learn.

Noah Adair, 18, plans to pass the program and work for the company. He recently graduated from Crawfordsville High School, which about an hour’s drive northwest of downtown Indianapolis.

Adair said, “They kind of taught me that there’s other ways of doing things. I didn’t want to go to college and get in a bunch of debt, which now I’m not in debt, and I’m learning something that I’ll be able to make money in in the future.”

Brock Johnson, 19, in 2021 graduated from Monrovia High School, about a half-hour’s drive southwest of downtown Indianapolis.

Johnson said, “We have a lot more options than just college. I was lucky enough to have parents that supported that option, being able to kind of break the status quo of going to college.”

Beyond Greenwood, Peterman has locations in Muncie, Lafayette, Fort Wayne, Bloomington and Columbus. One to two skilled technicians per trade per location will come to the academy two to three days a week during the semester to teach and then offer field training at their locations.

Chad Peterman, the president of the academy, said, “In our current class of 43, I have three college graduates. What we’re seeing is being able to offer a student, that fact that we pay them to learn. They’re in school from anywhere between 8-12 weeks. They’re getting paid hourly to learn. This is last class of 43, we had over 2,500 applications for the program. There’s definitely a need for sure and an interest in the program.”

Because the academy offers only so many seats, Peterman said, it tries to find entry-level roles for other candidates who don’t make the cut for the program. From that, the academy offers chances for opportunities in the program for the next class.

As far as trade skills to get in to the program, Peterman said, he prefers students not to have any. “We have a ton of people from outside the industry, all walks of life. I have a lot of funny stories about different people who came from the funeral industry to the warehouse worker and senior living, all kinds that has an interest in the trades.”

He said the academy has weathered storms such as the COVID-19 pandemic and, at the end of the day, the residential trade services will always be around. Even with technology, he thinks, technicians in the future will help diagnose and fix problems at homes and buildings. Peterman has been in the business for the last 11 years and says the systems have not changed much, although systems for heating, ventilation and air conditioning have become more efficient.

“Even with plumbing, all homes are pretty much set up the same way. They wire up light switches and lights the exact same way they did 20 or 30 years ago. So, these skills are not going away,” Peterman said.

He encourages anyone to apply. “They’ll be recruiting for their spring semester classes in January, with sessions starting in April.”