Apprentices to gain real-world job experience at Caterpillar

May. 04, 2013 @ 12:12 AM

A new class of Lee County high school students joined the Caterpillar Youth Apprentices program Thursday, beginning the second year of the largest apprenticeship program in North Carolina.

In this year’s group, 16 students from Lee County High School and Southern Lee High School will study welding at Central Carolina Community College and go through paid training at the Caterpillar plant while continuing their high school classes. Come next summer, they will have a paid internship with Caterpillar, and by the time it’s all over, they will have a welding certificate, Caterpillar training credentials, a youth apprentice certificate from the state, credit toward an adult apprenticeship and real-world job experience.

The heavy equipment company, which makes skid steer loaders at its plant in the Lee County Industrial Park, built a $31 million, 270,000-sq.-ft. expansion in 2010 after receiving a $900,000 up-front payment from the Lee County Board of Commissioners. That expansion included welding stations that officials from Caterpillar, CCCC and Lee County Schools all said will help students in the apprenticeship program find a steady job after high school.

“Welding’s one of those things (that) once you’ve got that skill, no one can take it away from you — whether you’re here at Caterpillar or anywhere else in the world,” said Brad Crace, operations manager of the local Caterpiller facility, at Thursday’s ceremony honoring the newest apprentices.

Donnie Oldham, chairman of the Lee County Economic Development Corporation — the group that secured the incentives package for Caterpillar back in 2010 — praised the manufacturer for being a good community citizen. He also praised the 16 sophomores waiting to be recognized.

“It’s not like Little League baseball,” Oldham said. “Everybody didn’t make the team. You guys were selected.”

Oldham, president of Sanford Contractors, said his construction company owns about 75 Caterpillar machines, telling the high schoolers to be proud that they will be working for what he considers the best construction equipment manufacturer there is.

CCCC President Bud Marchant echoed Oldham’s words.

“People line up to go to work for Caterpillar, and you folks, that should make you proud,” he said. “You parents, you should be proud.”

David Moore is one of those parents, and he said he’s both proud of his son Jesse, a sophomore at Lee County High School, and thankful the opportunity existed in the first place.

“I think it’s great they take the time to do something like this,” Moore said.

Jesse Moore said he signed up for the program “just to for sure have a job getting out of high school,” agreeing with his dad that it’s a good opportunity for the community to offer.

Stepping in to speak for Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss Thursday was Andy Bryan, who will take over the district’s top job in July and said he’s glad such programs are already in place in Lee County.

“This is the epitome of what we’re trying to accomplish because we have a saying that education is economic development,” Bryan said. “And this is the purest form of education as economic development.”

Testifying to that idea were four of the students from last year’s class of 17, who will begin a paid summer internship in June — something that’s often difficult for college students or even college graduates to find. One of them, Southern Lee junior Anthony Woodlief, said that even after a year of training and with another year yet to go, he’s glad to be a part of the program.

“It’s a lot of work, but everything pays off in the end,” he said.

The 16 inductees were:

Christopher Baker, SLHS

Cody Baker, LCHS

Gage Chambly, LCHS

Kayla Coleman, LCHS

Tristian Dennis, LCHS

Brandon Donathan, SLHS

Jonathan Godfrey, LCHS

Noel Martinez, SLHS

Joseph Matthews, SLHS

Jesse Moore, LCHS

Duncan Riddle IV, LCHS

Adan Renteria-Lascano, LCHS

Sir William Shoop, SLHS

Sean Stitt, SLHS

Ellizon Torres, SHLS

Ivan Vilchos, LCHS