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Caterpillar youth apprentice program kicks off

Click to enlarge Caterpillar youth apprentice program kicks off

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Greg Batten (standing), principal of Lee County High School, addresses a Feb. 29 gathering at the ... (more)

Click to enlarge Caterpillar youth apprentice program kicks off

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Cathy Swindell (left), Central Carolina Community College's director of Industry Services, and Linda ... (more)

Click to enlarge Caterpillar youth apprentice program kicks off

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Donnie Oldham,(left), Lee County Economic Development Corporation board chairman; Bob Heuts, LCEDC ... (more)

03.07.2012College & Community

SANFORD -- "Exciting" was the word most used at the Feb. 29 kickoff for the new Caterpillar-Sanford Youth Apprenticeship in welding program.

The kickoff, held at Lee County High School for education and community leaders, celebrated the partnership among Caterpillar, Central Carolina Community College, Lee County Schools and the N.C. Department of Labor in establishing the apprenticeship that will benefit students, industry and economic development. Representatives from each of the organizations addressed the gathering.

"This is an exciting day," said CCCC President Bud Marchant. "Manufacturing in the USA is back and Lee County is at the center of that renaissance. This is just the first of the programs we hope to announce."

Through the two-year program, selected high school juniors and seniors will earn their high school diploma, college certificate in welding, and NCDOL youth apprenticeship certificate. They will also receive customized training through the college and Caterpillar, and work part time at the Caterpillar plant. When they complete the program, they will be qualified as entry-level welders, ready to work at Caterpillar or other companies.

"I'm really excited about this," said Linda Shook, chair of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. "One of the strongest economic development tools we have is skilled people ready to take on jobs."

The manufacturing sector in the United States is more productive than ever, CCCC Dean of Vocational and Technical Programs Stephen Athans, told the gathering. Its challenge is finding technically trained people to work on its modern equipment. Athans said the apprenticeship program is a great opportunity for motivated young people, preparing them to go into the workforce and be productive.

Julie Ammons, Human Resources director for Caterpillar-Sanford, said the company is excited about the program. The company is opening a new fabrication facility in the Lee County Industrial Park, bringing Caterpillar jobs from Mexico back to the United States and, specifically, to the Lee County area.

"We recognized that we don't have a sufficient pipeline of manpower to man our new fabrication plant," she said. "This apprenticeship program ensures that we will have the talent and skill to fill our manpower needs."

The welding program starts in fall 2012 with 15 students. An additional 15 will be added in fall 2013. Caterpillar-Sanford will have the second-largest youth apprenticeship program in North Carolina, after the one at Siemens Energy, Inc., in Raleigh, according to Charlene Cross, NCDOL coordinator for apprenticeship programs.

In the welding program, in addition to their high school studies, those accepted will spend part of their time three days a week at CCCC learning blueprint reading, workplace safety, and basic, stick plate and inert gas welding.

For part of two days a week, they will be at the Caterpillar plant, receiving customized training through CCCC's Industry Services Office and accelerated training through Caterpillar. They will work with skilled welders and also have paid, part-time welding work at the facility. During the summers, they will work and train at Caterpillar up to 32 hours per week as paid apprentices.

"This is one of the greatest things I've seen since coming to Lee County," said Aaron Fleming, director of Career and Technical Education for Lee County Schools. "We're here today to make a very loud statement that apprenticeships are back."

Fleming added that, since the welding classes are taught at CCCC, they carry honors program weight, earning students extra points for their grade point average.

For more information about the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship program in welding, contact Lee County Schools Career Development coordinators Gary Hart at Southern Lee High School, (919) 718-2400, ext. 3252, or, or Alison Poole at Lee County High School, (919) 776-7541, ext. 4221, or