With a nickname like "Silicon Harbor," Charleston is home to plenty of tech startups that are meant to disrupt the way we do business.
One local startup, however, is disrupting the way we think of higher education, with a "learning by doing" mission of bringing back the good, old fashioned apprenticeship.
"It's about learning by doing," said Mt. Pleasant, SC resident Isaac Morehouse, founder of the Praxis apprenticeship program. "Rather than spending four years at a college being taught by people who aren't actually doing the work, they'll complete the apprenticeship with real-life experience doing actual work."
The program sounds simple: A one year program for 17-26 year olds who complete a six month bootcamp, and then get placed with a company for a six month apprenticeship.
Since 2014, the program has had 50 graduates, with more than 100 participants currently active. About half of those active participants are in the bootcamp phase, with the other half in apprenticeships.
The program is the brainchild of Morehouse, who has a background of working with a variety of free market think tanks and non-profits. Although he said he wasn't seeking venture capital, his dream benefitted from several major investors who believed in the program's potential.
As with any startup, the process has been a challenge and a learning experience for Morehouse. The first class in February 2014 had six participants, and the bootcamp was originally two months.
After learning what worked — and what didn't — the bootcamp phase was extended to three months, and then again to the current six month period. The current class, which started this month, has 14 participants.
The six month bootcamp includes such things as learning the discipline of writing daily blog posts, building a personal Web site and teaching the students to brand themselves.
Morehouse said the apprenticeships focus mainly on service sector jobs, where the program can add value. This includes marketing and administrative jobs, as opposed to mechanical or engineering industry jobs, some of which already have a successful apprenticeship model.
He added that, unlike traditional higher education, which can leave students burdened with significant debt, Praxis participants actually make more money during the program than it actually costs. The full program cost is $11,000, but participants earn $14,400 during their apprenticeship.
One of the biggest challenges, he said, is 17 or 18 year olds who want to do the program, but are facing resistance from their parents. He said that many parents have it set in their heads that they want their kids to attend a four-year college or university.
"It's really tough for these kids who want to do the program but are facing the possibility of being cut off by their parents," said Morehouse. "One thing we counsel is for these folks to tell their parents to let them try the Praxis program and, if it doesn't work out, they can always go to school after that."
Morehouse said Praxis has relationships with more than 65 different companies and organizations that have expressed interest in bringing on an apprentice. The Praxis Web site lists organizations such as BitPay, RiskAlyze, Springboard, ADS Security and Outbound Engine as Praxis partners.
He also noted that 98% of Praxis graduates receive a full-time offer from their business partner, with the average salary being $50,000 per year.
The program has had a mix of participants, ranging from recent high school graduates to people who attended some college, to college graduates.
Praxis has begun gaining nationwide attention, with Morehouse recently being asked to discuss the program on the Fox News Channel prime time show, Tucker Carlson Tonight.
"Once we place you in an apprenticeship, you're guaranteed to get a job at the end of the program," Morehouse told Carlson. "That's why we have to screen for quality people, but we're also there to coach and help ... to guaranteed they will succeed in those roles."
Carlson was clearly enamored with the program, telling Morehouse, "I love this idea just so much."
Morehouse told Carlson that Praxis partners also love the program.
"The businesses we work with love us," he said. "They come back and say, 'give us more of these people.'"
Readers interested in learning more about this Lowcountry startup can visit DiscoverPraxis.com
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