By Stefanie Jackson – Many students who participated in hybrid learning programs last year during the COVID-19 pandemic – attending class in person two days a week and spending the remaining school days in virtual learning – missed interacting with teachers and friends every day, but one student was able to take advantage of the unconventional schedule to get early experience in a career field.
Owen Chew is a freshman at Arcadia High School who began a paid internship at Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Oak Hall last year as an eighth grader.
Every other weekday when he was not in school, after he had finished his assignments at home, Owen worked alongside Ben Franklin’s owner, Jack Jester, doing plumbing and electrical work.
“It gives me something to do instead of sitting in an office all day, and it’s something I can learn that I can use in my future,” Owen said of his internship.
He was familiar with the Benjamin Franklin office because his mother, office manager Leesa Kelly, has worked for the company for five-and-a-half years.
Owen’s interest in the company began in the summer of 2020 when he was unoccupied while visiting his mom at work and he asked her for something to do.
He began filing paperwork and helping unload supplies and equipment from the delivery trucks.
Then Owen started accompanying Jester on jobs, and that eventually became a full-fledged internship. At age 14, Owen is one of the youngest interns Jester has trained.
Last school year, Owen worked 15 to 20 hours a week, and this summer, he worked up to 30 hours a week or more, getting paid as a helper.
Owen and Jester worked through the COVID-19 pandemic but stayed safe, keeping their distance from others. Not one of his employees was hospitalized for COVID-19, Jester said.
When Owen wasn’t at school or work, he kept busy playing in the Eastern Shore Street Hockey League in Parksley and playing soccer at the Eastern Shore YMCA.
Jester recommends becoming a helper and getting on-the-job training for anyone seeking an alternative to college and the high cost of student loans.
When he graduated from high school in 1973, he had three options: become an apprentice, go to college, or join the military.
Choosing to become an apprentice and get paid to learn a trade was a “no-brainer,” Jester said, and it remains a challenging but rewarding career path for young people today.
“It’s a good opportunity … they get paid to learn, and if you can teach them, they have something to fall back on if they move on to something else,” he said.
“Once they grasp it, they don’t forget it,” Jester said of the helpers he has employed and their training. Many have become long-term employees at Benjamin Franklin.
Mastering a trade and opening a business is “not easy … but it is rewarding,” Jester said. “If you do a good job for people, people will have your back.”
Kelly commended Jester for his willingness to hire individuals “off the street” and help them acquire skills “to support themselves and their families and have a nice lifestyle.”
She said, “He legitimately cares enough about people to teach these young men.”