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High school program offers student 'pre-apprenticeships' to start careers

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Juan Herrera (center) stands with administrators at North Pitt High School after receiving his preapprentice certificate. From left to right are Assistant Principal Nicki Miller, Assistant Principal Willie Joyner, Principal Maurice Harris and Assistant Principal Jessica Avery.

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By Maya Jarrell
and Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pitt Community College student Juan Herrera spends time in the classroom learning about motors, electrical systems, blueprints, and welding. He also works part-time as a maintenance technician with Greenville Utilities Commission.

He says he’s on the right track to a great future, all thanks to a pre-apprenticeship program that began his junior year of high school.

Herrera, 18, graduated from North Pitt High School in June and was the first student to be selected for Pitt County Schools’s pre-apprenticeship program. The program affords high school students the chance to take college courses and train for careers while also gaining valuable work experience with participating employers. Greenville Utilities was the first employer to participate in the program.

The partnership between employers, colleges and county schools is made possible through ApprenticeshipNC, a Raleigh-based group that serves all 100 counties of North Carolina. The group partners with employers, students and colleges to offer custom tailored pre-apprenticeship and formal apprenticeship programs. 

“ApprenticeshipNC is an employer-driven model that combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction,” Simone Pate, work-based learning coordinator for Pitt County Schools said.   

She added, “apprentices learn practical skills while earning nationally recognized industry credentials.”

Herrera said he was thankful for the opportunity to participate in the pre-apprenticeship program in high school and that his participation in the program benefited him and his employer. 

Richie Shreves, director of Human Resources for Greenville Utilities, said Herrera has been a great employee and has received excellent mentorship from his supervisors.  

"Juan has worked in GUC's Facilities Maintenance section for nearly a year where he has been mentored by seasoned facilities maintenance personnel,” Shreves said. “Juan has done an excellent job. This program offers many benefits to both the student and the employer. So much so, GUC is exploring options to expand this program into other areas within the organization."

Pate said that the pre-apprenticeship program has given Herrera the resources needed to have a successful career.  

“This is not just a matter of students filling jobs; it’s a career. The employers are giving high school students an opportunity for a career. 

“The term apprenticeship is one of the oldest methods of job training,” Pate said. “It has been around for a while, but the term ‘pre-apprenticeship’ is fairly new. It’s a partnership between the business, the school system and oftentimes the community college. Oftentimes the businesses will come to us and say ‘we want to start a pre-apprenticeship,’ and that’s what happened with this instance.”

Herrera is now in a formal apprenticeship program with Greenville Utilities and is working toward a journeyman’s certificate.

The journeyman’s certificate is awarded after the completion of a formal apprenticeship.

“The high school pre-apprenticeship hours and experience can be counted toward an adult apprenticeship, leading to a completed journeyman’s certificate,” Pate said. “The primary difference between high school pre-apprenticeships and regular apprenticeships, are that the student may start at an earlier age, and they may operate equipment that other workers may not operate at that age.”

Not only has this pre-apprenticeship set up a strong future for Herrera, but it has also opened doors for other students who wish to pursue similar paths in the coming years.

With the first successful pre-apprenticeship program completed, Pate has now begun to work out a more organized application timeline for interested students and has started a consortium of companies who are eager to train and hire next year’s pre-apprentices.

“The way it’s supposed to be done is how we are doing it with this other group of three companies — two of them very large commercial companies,” Pate said. “In the fall we start talking to students, by October we’ve met with all the kids, by January we’ve met with them, we’ve got the parents out for tours, start recruiting, start evaluating, and then they start narrowing them down so that by the spring of their junior year, they know which ones they’re going to hire.”

Pate said that she is going to continue to expand the program over time, involving more companies and more students each year. She hopes that stories like Herrera’s will show students that they have other options when it comes to higher education and occupations.

“Your average kid in highschool is not going to say, ‘Oh I want to be in HVAC, I want to be an electrician,’ people stumble into those careers,” Pate said. “We want to entice them and hook them early, and show them that you can make good money, you don’t have to have a four-year degree and a bunch of student debt. It’s an opportunity to get great skills, great training, great benefits, and a great job,” Pate said.  

To learn more about the pre-apprenticeship program contact Simone Pate at pates@pitt.k12.nc.us 

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR 

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