SANFORD - Nine graduates of the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program in welding were honored during a short ceremony on May 16 as new participants were inducted into the work-study program celebrated as a national model for workforce development.
The initiative was launched six years ago as a partnership among Caterpillar, Central Carolina Community College, Lee County Schools, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce to train high school students for a high-demand career and help provide the skilled workforce needed for Caterpillar and other high-tech industries to succeed.
Since then, the program has been a huge success. Not only a critical success, having been lauded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2013 as a "partnership worth repeating," but a practical one as well.
Martin Kegel, Fabrications Operations Manager for Caterpillar's Sanford facility, told graduates and guests that about 20 percent of their Welding II and Welding III employees are graduates of the apprenticeship program, a figure he described as a "phenomenal ratio."
Youth apprentices, including the 17 being inducted as the sixth cohort, continue high school studies in their junior and senior years using a tightly organized curriculum that includes three days of welding classes at the college and two days of on-the-job training through Caterpillar every week.
Students who complete the apprenticeship successfully and meet various qualification standards receive a number of credentials and benefits. They include a 12-hour Welding Certificate from Central Carolina Community College, High School Recognition Certificate from the North Carolina Community College System and Career Readiness Certificate.
Work hours accrued in the program are applied toward an adult apprenticeship, and graduates receive a preferred employment opportunity at Caterpillar Inc.
Student speaker Clay Lynch stepped to the podium and introduced himself as "a senior at Southern Lee High School and a current graduate of the Caterpillar apprenticeship program." He recounted the ups and downs of his two-year journey, combining short comic stories with heartfelt reflections.
Then, he turned to the new inductees with some advice. "Show up 30 minutes early, keep your head straight, stay out of trouble and work hard," he said. "Because this program is one of the best. Don't blow it."
Educational leaders on the podium appreciated better than anyone how rigorous the experience can be, especially for young students who make the decision to begin pursuing their career while still high school sophomores.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan commended graduates for achieving at such a high level while combining classroom work with real-world application, and CCCC President Dr. T. Eston Marchant echoed that sentiment. "I hope you understand how proud we are of you and how special you are," he told the graduates.
Though the entire ceremony lasted just over 30 minutes, there was a short keynote address delivered by John Kirkman, Assistant Director for Career and Technical Education for the North Carolina Division of Public Instruction. He told the audience at the McSwain Center that he travels around the state and sees a lot of opportunity available for students. But when he visits with other school districts and community colleges, he suggests that the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program is a model they should adopt.
Before it was time for photos and refreshments, the formal portion of the evening concluded with some advice from Maureen Little, Vice President of Economic Development for the North Carolina Community College System, who encouraged students to find their passion. "You are only going to be the success that you can," she said, "if you are passionate about what you do."
Members of this year's graduating class are Kaylee Arnold, Jeremy Cotten, Hunter Cox, Clay Lynch, Amy McPherson, Jared Oldham, Johnathan Terrell, Jacob Wilson, and Hailey Young.
The newest inductees are Brent Alexander, Joshua Battle, William Cooper, Conner Fogleman, Mckenzie Godbey, Joseph Guzman, Ana Hernadez, Caleb Kirik, Kolby Love, Eduardo Mendez, Yael Soto Montes, Angel Morales, David Pickard, Esdras Sagastume, Xianys Santiago, Marlon Vargas, and Jose Villalta.
For more information on the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program, contact Drew Goodson, CCCC Dean of Career & Technical Programs, at 919-718-7445 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Kirkman, Assistant Director for Career and Technical Education for the North Carolina Division of Public Instruction, presented remarks at the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program graduation and induction.