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Brady Powers (left), Gene Tedder and Jarrod Gates, three Lincoln County Schools seniors who were recently accepted into Apprenticeship 321.

It may not be the same as signing with a sports team or getting a sports scholarship, but the Lincoln County Schools students who sign on with Apprenticeship 321 are assured of an education, a well-paying job, with benefits, with a local manufacturing company, and perhaps most importantly, no student loan debt. This year, eight Lincoln County Schools seniors were accepted into Apprenticeship 321, which is offered through Gaston College and local manufacturing companies.

“There’s a high demand in Lincoln County for a quality workforce,” John Dancoff, Lincoln Economic Development Association’s existing business manager, said. “As machinery gets more complicated, they need a skilled workforce. The apprenticeship program works well for these companies because every machine is different and it’s on-the-job training. They don’t expect someone to come out of Gaston College, for example, with a degree in mechatronics to come in and work their machines without additional training.”

The concept of an apprenticeship program, wherein a company hires an individual and trains them in a specific job while they’re going to school, is still relatively new in the United States and not all companies offer it. 

In order to get into the youth apprenticeship program offered through Lincoln County Schools, students have to be juniors or seniors, have at least a 2.5 GPA, two recommendations from teachers, have a good citizenship record and attendance. When they graduate, the goal is for them to sign with a manufacturing company through Apprenticeship 321 or other apprenticeship programs.

Once accepted into Apprenticeship 321, the apprentice works at the company they’ve signed with for typically 32 hours per week while going to college and taking 8-10 semester hours. The pay increases as the apprentice is signed off on job skills. Starting pay is typically $10-$12 per hour and end pay is typically $18-$20 per hour. All tuition, fees and books are paid for and the students earn a salary from the company. They have a guaranteed job when they are through with their education. Normally they’re required to stay with this company for a minimum of two years. 

An East Lincoln High School senior, Brady Powers, is hoping to do his apprenticeship through Aptar or Robert Bosch Tool Corporation working as an industrial maintenance mechanic. 

“I transferred from Lincoln Charter School to East Lincoln for a better career opportunity with the Lincoln County School of Technology, and when I heard about that program, it sounded good to me,” he said. “Everything I’ve done so far has been really good.”

As an industrial maintenance mechanic, Powers will be responsible for repairing any machinery that goes down and troubleshooting potential problems. 

Not all students are either interested in or good candidates for traditional four year college degrees. The Apprenticeship 321 program is well suited for those who are interested in working in a manufacturing environment. Because local manufacturing companies are in desperate need of trained employees, there’s plenty of opportunity for those who go through the program as well as good job security once they’ve finished their education.

“One of my parents used to work in a factory and they said it wasn’t that bad and all the factories I’ve toured have been A/C controlled with very nice people working there,” Powers said. “I don’t see much of an issue in working in a factory.”

Another East Lincoln senior, Gene Tedder, is excited about the opportunities available to him.

“I first heard about it when I was a sophomore and I was too young to do it then,” he said. “I did a lot of research into it. It’s an excellent career path that allows me to earn a trade while going through college.”

Tedder hopes to do tool and die making and is looking at The Timken Company as a potential employer. 

“I can’t wait to start with the program,” said Jarrod Gates, who is a West Lincoln High School senior and has already signed with Bosch, where he plans to become a mechatronics engineer.

High school students are recruited into the apprenticeship program by career development coordinators to help them find pathways after high school.

“I invite guest speakers in to talk to the students in their classrooms and host open house meetings,” Elizabeth Darling, a career development coordinator at East Lincoln High School, said. “Students and their parents also seek me out with questions on the program. They have so many options and sometimes the hardest part is getting them to focus on one and learn about all the different options.”

Students sometimes have tunnel vision about having to get a four year degree and they don’t really look at their other options or if a four year degree is the best option for them, Darling added.

“A lot of our upcoming job market does require some post-secondary training but not necessarily a four year degree,” she said. “There’s something called the seven, two, one rule which says that for every 10 jobs that are created, only two of them require a four year degree. One would require something beyond a four year degree. The other seven jobs either require a high school diploma or some sort of post-secondary training.”

The Apprenticeship 321 program at Gaston College relies on the career development coordinators and the Lincoln County School of Technology to both scope out and expose and pre-train students for their program.

“The career development coordinators are our eyes and ears on the ground,” Jill Hendrix, a coordinator with Apprenticeship 321, said. “They communicate what this program is and to get the students involved and excited about the program.”

Apprenticeship 321 has been in existence since 2015 and it’s been rare that students will go through the program and then leave the company, according to Dancoff.

“Blum has their own apprenticeship program and they’ve had 21 apprentices go through the program and 20 of them are still there,” he said. “The one they lost was due to some family issues, not because he wasn’t happy with the company.”

The Lincoln County School of Technology gives Lincoln County Schools students exposure to a different career path and teaches them the skills they will need to get a job either directly out of high school or into an apprenticeship program.

“We’re proud to partner with Apprenticeship 321, Apprenticeship Catawba through Catawba Valley Community College and Apprenticeship 2000 (Blum) to provide our students with wonderful career and college opportunities debt free,” Lincoln County School of Technology principal Dr. Cale Sain said. “Our goal is to provide seamless CTE pathways from high school to postsecondary institutions that encourage students to pursue options other than the traditional four-year university model if the options meet their future career goals.”

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