Guilford County apprenticeship program recruits high school students into local manufacturing jobs

Thanks to an innovative community college program and the collaboration of 21 local companies, high school students in Guilford County are enjoying the benefits of a structured pathway into advanced manufacturing jobs.

The Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) program recruits high school juniors and seniors to boost them into careers while earning a college degree at Guilford Technical Community College. Participants in the program receive a free college education and earn a paycheck through an apprenticeship at one of the partnering manufacturing companies.

Students in the GAP program choose one of six machining pathways and are sponsored by a partnering industry. In addition to taking classes a couple of days a week at the community college, participants work through an apprenticeship for four years to gain on the job training.

Don Ellington, Manufacturing Department Chair and Welding Instructor at GTCC, said word has spread fast and the program has boosted enrollment in manufacturing programs at the college.

“The pathways are so structured – students get a great job, a great education, work in teams, and are mentored with coaches and coordinators supporting them,” said Ellington. “They can’t help but succeed.”

The GAP program connects the community college, Guilford County Schools, and local industries to teach, train and lead students into meaningful local manufacturing careers. The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and the Greensboro and High Point Chambers of Commerce are also partners in the program.

Launched in 2016 to help manufacturers find quality, trained workers, the results have led to ready to work employees with the right skills and mindset for success. Part of the success has been the new Center for Advanced Manufacturing and its state-of-the-art-equipment.

“Our machining labs rival the best in the nation,” said Ellington. “Industry is blown away by what we have, and it has created a real asset for the community.”

In April 2017, Golden LEAF awarded $650,000 to GTCC through the Community-Based Grants Initiative to help expand the college’s machining programs.

Randy Gunter, GTCC Dean of Industrial, Construction and Engineering Technologies, said the funding allowed the college to purchase new CNC equipment that along with the existing equipment and new machining equipment that the college invested in made the program viable.

“Golden LEAF funding was a huge player in the success of the program,” said Gunter. “Golden LEAF funding made up a third of our machining equipment purchases.”

Currently, GTCC has 113 students participating in manufacturing programs through the apprenticeship with 18 of those students earning National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) nationally recognized credentials and a total of 31 credentials earned to date. The first graduating cohort will finish the program this month.

“Of the apprenticeship programs, the manufacturing program has grown the most from 14 in the initial cohort to 40-45 per year,” said Gunter.

The more students that go through the program, the more want to sign up for an apprenticeship.

“Manufacturing isn’t dirty and sweaty work anymore, and the word is getting out that it pays well, too,” said Ellington. “High school students see their friend driving a new car and ask how they could afford to buy it. GAP participants are our best recruitment tool.”

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