RICHMOND, Va. -- Keivonte Thomas was a graduating senior at the Richmond Technical Center last year with dreams of painting cars.
Now, he's a full-time employee with the Richmond Public Schools Department of Transportation.
"I don't want to paint anymore," Thomas said. "I want to become a diesel tech. I like this better than anything else."
That's something that makes Charles Watson smile. His job is to help Richmond students find their future through the RTC Pilot Youth Registered Apprenticeship Program.
"Oh, I'm like a proud father," Watson said. "In fact, my students call me Papa Smurf."
With the exodus of baby boomers from the workforce, Watson said it was necessary to develop skills in those who will take their place.
"Having an apprenticeship program where they can come to school with us and learn the skill at the technical center, then eventually go to work to apply what they're learning and get paid at the same time is a win-win situation," he said.
Some people look at a school bus and all they see is a big, yellow box on wheels.
Lamar Blackwell looks under the hood and sees opportunity.
Like Thomas, he also went through the program and now has a full-time job with Richmond Schools. They’re also recipients of the Department of Labor and Industry’s (VDOLI) Outstanding Apprentice Award.
"I like working on my own cars, so I just thought I should come to the industry and work on buses. I like diesels," Blackwell said.
The program offers 16 through 18-year-old students an opportunity to explore all kinds of career paths and work get work experience.
It's not easy.
"A lot to it. A lot to it," Thomas said, "but once you start working on (buses), you see it's more than just something that transports people."
Determination, and a little elbow grease, is Building Better Minds.