GAP program fills a hole for ‘hands-on’ experience

By Kevin Spradlin
PiedmontPostNC.com

* GAP Facebook page
* GAP website

GREENSBORO – It sounds almost too good to be true, and there does not seem to be a drawback, even in the fine print.

A part-time job that offers an hourly rate higher than the federal minimum wage. Free community college tuition – and the student gets paid even as they sit in the college classroom.

“They pay for me to attend class,” said Northern Guilford High School senior Andrew Hairston said. “Whether I’m at work or at school, I still get paid, regardless. I can’t complain with that.”

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com Andrew Hairston, a senior at Northern Guilford High School, works a lathe machine at TE Connectivity in Greensboro. He goes to school for half a day and works a shift in the mold shop the rest of the day. Within five years, Hairston has a chance to earn his journeyman’s card and an associate’s degree – all paid for by TE Connectivity.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
Andrew Hairston, a senior at Northern Guilford High School, works a lathe machine at TE Connectivity in Greensboro. He goes to school for half a day and works a shift in the mold shop the rest of the day. Within five years, Hairston has a chance to earn his journeyman’s card and an associate’s degree – all paid for by TE Connectivity.

Upon successful completion of the program, each student has the inside track to a good-paying career.

Students like Hairston have made the decision to apply for the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners, a program that provides eligible young women and men the opportunity an alternative to pursuing a traditional four-year degree.

And since it does, on its surface, sound too good to be true, representatives of one company help provide the sense of urgency to indicate the program’s authenticity. Steve Cockburn is the manager of the mold shop at TE Connectivity, a company that creates connectors to harnesses in the automotive industry. Supervisors like Cockburn are looking down the road, five or 10 years from now, and what they see is empty work stations – with work piling up.

“Right now, you’re seeing a lack of skilled tradesmen because of the lack of apprenticeship programs,” Cockburn said. “A whole slew of apprenticeship programs were dropped (in recent decades).”

That’s fine to meet the company’s immediate needs, Cockburn said, but “in 10 years, 50 percent of that shop will be retired. We can’t train ‘em fast enough to replace the retirees.”

That’s where students like Hairston come in. As a junior, he attended an open house for TE Connectivity with a parent. It was the first step on what could be a long and lucrative career path.

“At one point, I had no idea what it was,” Hairston said.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com Precise measurements are important for Andrew Hairston, an apprentice at TE Connectivity. Here, he uses an electronic device to ensure accuracy within a certain degree of tolerance.

Kevin Spradlin | PiedmontPostNC.com
Precise measurements are important for Andrew Hairston, an apprentice at TE Connectivity. Here, he uses an electronic device to ensure accuracy within a certain degree of tolerance.

After the open house, Hairston applied to the program. He was among the students who had earned a grade point average of at least 2.5 and had taken advanced math courses. Hairston had also shown reliability, having recorded five or fewer absences each year in school. After that, it was simply showing an interest, said Robin Sharp, HR business partner for TE Connectivity.

“We invite those that qualify back to one of our locations,” Sharp explained.

The students participate in four nights of orientation, including two nights of hands-on experience working on a project. Simply making it to the fourth night “helps us determine who we want to take to the next step,” Sharp said.

That next step is a six-week summer schedule. For eight hours a day, five days a week, the student gets a better view of the job description. Meanwhile, the company continues to evaluate the student as well in order “to make sure it’s a good fit for both.”

Students who are invited to continue along in the process become part of a ceremony akin to an athlete signing a national letter of intent to play sports in college. It’s a big deal, Sharp said.

 

Exclusions apply (subhead)

The program is not for everybody. Even those who make it through the four-night orientation, or even the six-week summer program, find reasons to leave.

“These are high school students,” Sharp said. “Some students decided they wanted to go on to a four-year university first. Or that it wasn’t a good fit, especially with some juniors (who) wanted to continue with their high school.”

For others extracurricular activities are placed higher on the priority list. Though Sharp said participation in the apprenticeship program does not preclude being in sports or band, doing both would be “a lot to juggle.”

Hairston was one of 100 people to attend the open house. Fifteen students were selected for the orientation and nine made it to the six-week summer program. Only four were invited to become an apprentice.

For Hairston, it is an idea that makes too much sense to ignore. During the summer, Hairston said he talked with several TE Connectivity employees who had been with the company for up to 30 years. Hairston said he figured if an employee stayed there that long, “you must enjoy what you’re doing. So, I figured, this might not be a bad trade to get into. I’ve come to really like it myself.”

For people like Leigh Smith, such opportunities for some students can be hard to come by.

“It’s a great program,” said Smith, career development coordinator at Norther Guilford High School. “The opportunities for them are really phenomenal. These students have a great job opportunity in front of them. They get paid to go to class – to sit in class. I tell students, ‘you’re not going to find that anywhere (else).’ And the degree is taken care of. It’s a great thing.”

Smith said even the work required of students during the four nights of orientation are impressive.

“The things that they do, I don’t have those skills,” Smith said. “I have a little metal train that they built (during) an exercise in orientation. He was telling me all the tools he had to put together the train, and I’m just like, ‘okay, I’m glad they didn’t ask me to do that.’”

With a hard work, the effort will become much more than building a toy train. Hairston and other apprentices will complete 8,000 hours of training in a period of up to five years. At that point, a successful apprentice will have earned a journeyman’s card and an associate’s degree in machining technology.

“In that 8,000 hours, they’re gonna learn to mill, grind, do lathe work and EDM (electrical discharge machining), learn to weld, be involved with lasers, learn the metallurgy of the tools we use,” Cockburn said. “They’ll learn the fundamentals of a mold – how it works, different components.”

For Hairston, it seems to be the right choice.

“It’s great, in my opinion,” Hairston said. “People can start doing the things that they actually like to do for a job. Most people my age are working at fast food or retail. They don’t really want to work there.”

Students who are interested in learning more about the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners program are encouraged to contact their school’s career development coordinator.

Filed in: Business, Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Oak Ridge, Regional News, Summerfield

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