High School Apprenticeships Close Skills Gap

Pisgah High School senior Branson Baker.

Pisgah High School senior Branson Baker.

Many manufacturing companies in the surrounding areas are faced with the difficult task of hiring highly-skilled workers to build in-demand products. The machining programs at Pisgah and Tuscola high schools are working to build a pipeline of qualified and dedicated young workers who are excited about manufacturing and eager to launch a successful career.

Tuscola senior Taylor Sherrill and Pisgah senior Branson Baker are currently completing apprenticeships at GE Aviation in Asheville.

Over the past few years, the machining programs at Pisgah and Tuscola, in conjunction with Haywood Community College (HCC), have partnered with local businesses to increase the rigor of curriculum and to teach skills needed in today’s precision machining industry.

“The work environment at GE is great, and the opportunities for job growth are endless,” Baker said. “Thanks to a lot of hard work at school, I feel like I’ve found my dream job.”

The GE Aviation plant, which opened in 2014, is a 170,000-square-foot facility that mass produces engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite (CMC) materials.

Tuscola High School senior Taylor Sherrill.

Tuscola High School senior Taylor Sherrill.

Baker finishes seals, while Sherrill works in a different area creating blade retainers.

Apprenticeships integrate school-based and work-based learning to instruct students in employability and occupational skills needed by local industries. Sherrill and Baker attend classes in the morning to meet high school graduation requirements and then work at their apprenticeship from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m.

“The machining program helped me land this apprenticeship, and it has helped me in my other high school classes like math and agriculture,” Sherrill said. “I’ve always liked creating things and working with my hands, so machining was a perfect match.”

A path to machining and other manufacturing skills has become important as a shortage of skilled workers grows. A 2011 survey from the Manufacturing Institute showed more than 80 percent of companies nationwide reported moderate to severe shortages in machinists and technicians. The machining programs at Tuscola and Pisgah are intended to set students, businesses, and the local economy up for success.

“Machinists are in the highest demand I’ve seen them in a long time. I get calls all the time from businesses wanting our students,” HCC Computer-Integrated Machining Lead Instructor Doug Cabe said. “The training we’re able to provide our students with helps them land good-paying jobs at great companies around the area.”

Manufacturing is a large and dynamic sector in North Carolina. Recently, high-tech manufacturing businesses, like biotech, pharmaceutical and aerospace have flocked to the surrounding areas of Haywood County.

High school students taking classes at HCC are receiving the most up-to-date training. The HCC Computer-Integrated Machining Program received accreditation from The National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Inc. (NIMS) last year. Employers hiring these students know that they have met national and quality safety standards Cabe said.

At the end of the school year, Baker and Sherrill will both begin working full-time to complete the 8,000-hour apprenticeship with GE Aviation. Both students plan to take advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program by completing coursework to receive their associate degree in Computer-Integrated Machining from HCC. Upon high school graduation, because of Tuscola’s partnership with HCC, Sherrill will also earn a certificate in Computer-Integrated Machining.

Machining is one of many college-level programs at HCC that high school juniors and seniors can enroll in at no cost while earning college credit for courses that are completed. For more information about HCC’s Computer-Integrated Machining Program for high school students, contact High School Programs Coordinator Matt Heimburg at 828-627-4579 or mheimburg@haywood.edu.