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First class finishes RockATOP apprenticeship program

First class finishes RockATOP apprenticeship program

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Omar Rodriguez, left, and Andrea Zarate sign apprenticeship paperwork with Amcor Specialty Cartons of Reidsville. 

WENTWORTH – Jordan Dawson has literally laid a brick foundation for her future.

She is among 17 Rockingham County high school graduates and rising seniors who this summer have completed two college courses at Rockingham Community College and six-week pre-apprenticeships with local manufacturers as part of the county's new RockATOP program. Dawson was matched with Pine Hall Brick in the western part of the county where "the company made me feel I'm a part of their family'' and she learned the art of brick making from start to finish.

The students from this inaugural RockATOP class joined with their parents and school officials Tuesday night at RCC to celebrate their achievements and signed agreements of intention to continue work with their sponsoring corporations for three to four more years.

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Gabriel Johnson is a proud senior at Dalton McMichael High School who has completed his apprenticeship at Machine Specialty, Inc.

Beyond that, the program will see the students through a cost-free associate's degree in manufacturing technology from RCC, as well as an opportunity to concurrently earn a prestigious work credential – a journeyman certificate.

RockATOP, which stands for Rockingham Apprenticeship, Technical Opportunities Partnership, seeks to get the county's kids ready for the talent-starved skilled labor job market, explained Lydia Craddock, career counselor for the program.

Work-based learning is a great benefit to the county's youth, explained the evening's keynote speaker Dr. Pamela Howze, director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions' apprenticeship and work-based learning program. 

"There are 350,000 open jobs in manufacturing in North Carolina, and that's a pretty significant skills shortage,'' Howze told the group of grads and their families, explaining that with apprentice credentials students stand to earn an average salary of $50,000. 

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Stanley Bowman, lean coordinator for Pine Hall Brick, prepares to sign apprentice Jordan Dawson from Rockingham County High School.

The Durham-based Howze summoned applause from parents, noting that RockATOP participants will earn a two- or four-year degree and get paid throughout their program while apprenticing with manufacturers. "You'll graduate debt-free.''

The apprenticeship program is the right way for schools to partner with industry, County Commissioner Mark Richardson told the group. "The customer of the school system is the employer."

Local manufacturers are owed a debt of gratitude for their eagerness to take part in the program, said Dr. Kenneth Scott, CTE director for Rockingham County Schools. Business leaders "stepped up and said 'Yeah, we want to give this a try.' We're here one year later to send these young people off to work in style.'' Participating county industries include Amcor Specialty Cartons, ABCO Automations, MSI (Machine Specialty, Inc.) and Smith-Carolina, as well as Pine Hall Brick.

Proudly pulling on his MSI ballcap, Gabriel Johnson, a senior at Dalton McMichael High School, enjoyed post-signing ceremony refreshments with his family. The experience will "help me become a better engineer so I can provide more for a future family,'' he said. 

For Erik Rivera-Yoc, a graduate of Morehead High School, his commitment to ABCO Automations makes him feel more mature, he said, smiling and sporting an embroidered company work shirt and ball cap.

"This is a big deal,'' Richardson said from the podium. “It may direct the rest of your life. It's gonna give you skills you'll use for the rest of your life.''

For apprentice employer and manufacturer of industrial concrete buffers, Rob Smith of Smith-Carolina considers his student Daniel Pinnix, a recent graduate of Rockingham County High School, a blessing. “And it's an opportunity to have a great career in Rockingham County. I've got him for four more years!''

Craddock explained that the program is open not only to county school system students, but also to home schooled and private school rising seniors and graduates. Participating students will have rigorous schedules with rising seniors attending their respective high schools in the mornings and working at assigned corporations in the afternoons. High school graduates will work for sponsoring companies four days per week and attend RCC classes one day weekly. For more information on the program, call Craddock at 336-349-6361.


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