UPS School-to-Work employee Caleb Aldridge, 18, carries a bag to be filled with small packages at UPS Worldport in Louisville. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Caleb Aldridge will graduate from Bullitt East High School next month, but he already has some college credits and has worked part-time sorting small packages at UPS Worldport for nearly a year.

He plans to stay with UPS for now and take advantage of tuition forgiveness programs to get a college degree.

Matthew Dawson, 21, also joined UPS through the package giant’s School-to-Work program and has since taken advantage of other offers to obtain an associate degree from Indiana University Southeast.

He now manages the program through which he joined UPS and hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources management in 2022.

For young students, the programs offer an inexpensive path toward a college degree. For UPS, meanwhile, the programs play a vital role in bringing in much-needed workers to sort the two million packages that come through Worldport every day.

“We’re in a very competitive hiring environment, and this is our competitive edge,” UPS spokesman Jim Mayer told Insider Thursday as he stood in the company’s small package sorting facility.

Nearby, small packages dropped from conveyors into bags that Aldridge and other workers then tied and placed on another conveyor system. From there, the bags are transported throughout the facility and ultimately placed into pods and onto planes, to be transported anywhere in the world, from Anchorage to Dubai and Shenzhen, China.

Hiring event Saturday

Planes at UPS Worldport on Thursday. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

UPS will hold a hiring event from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at 8203 National Turnpike to persuade recent high school graduates and college students home for summer break to spend the next few months sorting packages at Worldport. The starting wage is $13, recently increased thanks to a new Teamsters union contract.

It’s extra money in students’ pockets, and they can earn tuition dollars toward a college degree, but for UPS, the student package sorters are a critical piece of the puzzle that makes Worldport run.

At night, about 6,500 workers staff Worldport, and about a third of those are students.

“We couldn’t staff the facility without those students,” Mayer said. “It would be a challenge to fill the available spots.”

Local employers for months have said that they’re scrambling to find applicants for open jobs. The unemployment rate in Jefferson County has hovered at or below 4% for four years. Local businesses, including UPS, have raised wages and changed hiring practices and job requirements to find workers.

UPS, too, is hiring. In fact, Mayer said prospective employees who show up Saturday may get job offers that day, contingent upon their passing a background check. To expedite the process, he encouraged applicants to search the website for “package handler” in Louisville and fill out the application online before coming to the interview on Saturday. Applicants must bring two original forms of identification, preferably a driver’s license and a Social Security card.

School to career

Caleb Aldridge

Aldridge said that when he heard about the UPS School-to-Work program, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up because he could earn money, gain job experience and collect college credits while still in high school.

He said he attends school daily from 7:20 a.m. to 10:05 a.m. and arrives at UPS at 11 a.m., where he spends about five or six hours sorting small packages, under 10 pounds, which account for about 60 percent of the business at Worldport.

The work requires lifting some heavy bags and transferring them onto a conveyor system, and in the summer “it gets pretty hot,” he said, but he enjoys the work, especially the interaction with co-workers.

“I’ve developed a lot as a person,” Aldridge said.

His mom, a teacher at Bardstown High School, and his father, a contractor, encouraged him to join the UPS program because of the tuition help and because it would allow him to remain close during his college career.

“They were definitely very happy,” he said.

He had been taking college classes Tuesdays and Thursdays and plans to continue that after graduation. He also is considering studying engineering in the U.S. Navy.

For much of the last year, Aldridge has been paid $10.60 per hour, but he just got a raise of $2.40 thanks to a new Teamsters union contract. He said he has invested a lot of the money in the stock market, an interest he developed thanks to a finance class he has been taking in high school.

Once students graduate from high school, they can qualify for other UPS tuition assistance programs, including the Metro College program, which pays for tuition at the University of Louisville or Jefferson County Technical College.

Matthew Dawson

Dawson, who once did the same work as Aldridge, stayed with UPS after graduating from high school and enrolled in the company’s Earn & Learn program, which pays workers up to $5,250 per year, up to a lifetime maximum of $25,000, toward college expenses.

Dawson told Insider that he initially planned to study psychology and just stay with UPS until he got his degree, but working with others at UPS changed his mind.

“After seeing all of the opportunities, I think I’d be crazy to leave,” he said.

Dawson is taking courses in human resources management and expects to obtain his bachelor’s degree in early 2022.

Mayer said that through the UPS Living Options and Opportunities Path, or LOOP, students living outside of Jefferson, Bullitt, Oldham, Spencer, Henry, Meade, Shelby and Trimble counties, also can receive rent assistance so that they can live and work in Jefferson County.

For many people who don’t think they can afford higher education, Mayer said, “This is how they afford college.”

The student employees have to stay with UPS only so long as they take the classes, he said, but the tuition programs also boost employee morale and loyalty, reducing turnover and related costs for the package giant. But employees are free to take their skills to Humana, Papa John’s or other local employers.

Raising the educational attainment of the Louisville population is good for business, Mayer said.

Since 1998, UPS has spent $107 million on the Metro College program, which has allowed 5,583 employees to obtain 9,220 college degrees.

Boris Ladwig

Boris Ladwig

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.