Apprenticeship program sparks interest
Anthony Worley (right, front) and Andrew Stamper (right, back), both Lee County High School students, ... (more)
SANFORD - Caterpillar, Inc.'s Youth Apprenticeship Program in welding is sparking interest statewide and nationally as an innovative and practical way for industry to build the skilled workforce it needs.
The two-year program, a partnership among Caterpillar Inc.'s Sanford Fabrication Facility, Central Carolina Community College, Lee County Schools, and the N.C. Department of Labor, is training high school students through apprenticeships for a critical, high-demand, well-paying career.
"We have a global economy now," said Julian Philpott, chair of the CCCC Board of Trustees. "At the college, we feel it is important to have collaborations to make students the best prepared they can be to enter the workforce, provide a good living for their families, and be productive members of society. Programs like this provide excellent opportunities."
One of the organizations taking notice of the apprenticeship program is the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University. The institute focuses on long-term issues that impact the state in the global economy in order to discover opportunities that strengthen its ability to compete.
"As the Institute for Emerging Issues travels the state, we hear time and time again from frustrated companies that are unable to fill existing jobs in manufacturing," said Anita Brown-Graham, IEI director. "They are calling for innovative ways to create a workforce pipeline. A great example of innovation is the manufacturing apprentice partnership among Caterpillar, Central Carolina Community College and Lee County Schools."
The apprenticeship program started in September. The 16 students in the first class are not only keeping up with their high school studies at Southern Lee and Lee County high schools, but also taking welding classes three days a week at the college's Lee County Campus.
"This program ensures that these students are leaving the school system with a marketable trade," said Dr. Jeff Moss, Lee County Schools superintendent. "They are preparing for a career that will last a lifetime. Students have to acquire advanced skills and that's where partnerships are most valuable. They will walk into industry ready to work."
Caterpillar's new fabrication facility in the Lee County Industrial Park is part of the company's Building Construction Products Division. It is bringing jobs back from Mexico to the United States and, specifically, to the Lee County area. As the company planned the move, it realized it did not have a pipeline of skilled welders to man the facility.
Working together, Caterpillar, CCCC's Industry Services Office and welding program, and Lee County Schools developed the apprenticeship program. The N.C. Department of Labor recognized it as a registered apprenticeship. It is the second largest youth apprenticeship program in the state, according to Charlene Cross, NCDOL coordinator for these programs.
The partnership members are enthusiastic and the word about the program is spreading, especially through Caterpillar's corporate web page and internal network.
"We are excited the program is in progress and look forward to the students utilizing their training at our Sanford facility this summer," said Julie Ammons, Caterpillar-Sanford's Human Relations manager. "I've had a lot of phone calls from my counterparts at other Caterpillar facilities. They are excited about the potential of implementing a program like this in their areas."
In CCCC's welding class for the apprenticeship program, instructor Charles Bell teaches the students blueprint reading; workplace safety; and basic, stick plate, and inert gas welding.
On a typical day, sparks fly as the students grind and smooth pieces of metal, preparing them for a weld. At workstations, other students hone their skills in making high quality gas tungsten arc welds. Each is focused, taking the learning of welding skills very seriously, aware that they are preparing for a good career.
Josef Piper, a Lee County High and apprenticeship program student, is looking forward to that good career.
"I wasn't familiar with welding before," Piper said. "But after learning more about it, I saw that my life could be a whole lot better with the opportunity, knowledge and useful skills that welding training provides."
Bell has been teaching welding at the college since 1987, long enough to see the decline of state and industry apprenticeship programs and the accompanying decline in skilled labor for manufacturing in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average age of today's welders is 54 and there is a large and growing need to fill the ranks with younger, skilled workers.
"When I was younger, a lot of kids in North Carolina worked on farms and repaired farm equipment," Bell said. "Today's average high school student hasn't really worked with tools or performed hands-on work - you see that more and more. That's why apprenticeship programs are so important in training them."
Briana Peterman is one of three young women in the program. She used to live in Alabama, where all her uncles were welders.
"I got interested in welding as a career when I heard about the Caterpillar program and thought it was a good idea, a different way to make a living," she said. "After I finish the program, I plan to work at Caterpillar, get more training, and then go in the Air Force as a metals technician, working on airplanes."
Bell said the students in the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program are doing very well. When they complete the program, they will be classified as entry-level welders.
"For them, there's a bright light at the end of the tunnel - a job at Caterpillar or elsewhere," he said.
The students are learning the welding skills taught to all CCCC welding students. They will also receive training for Caterpillar-specific skills at the Sanford facility through the college's Industry Services Office.
At Caterpillar, they will work with skilled welders while being paid by the company for their work and training time. During the summer between their junior and senior years, they will work and train up to 32 hours per week as paid company apprentices.
Upon completion of the program, graduates will have:
- Earned their high school diploma,
- Earned a welding certificate from CCCC,
- Earned an NCDOL certificate for apprenticeship completion,
- Completed the 80-hour Caterpillar Accelerated Training Program,
- Completed hours to be credited toward their adult apprenticeship, and,
- Gained two years experience as part-time Caterpillar employees.
Other students taking part in the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program in welding are: Allen Gautier, James Kirik, Taylor Lett, Cheyenne Sanders and Nicholas Wilson, all of Lee County High School; and George Afaro, Steven Bouldin, Biagio Esposito, James Hilliard, Antonio Murchison, Ashley Stack, Andrew Stamper, Joshua Watson, and Anthony Woodlief, all of Southern Lee High School.
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