SANFORD — Two groups of students from each of the county’s two high schools — Southern Lee and Lee County — celebrated their selection into the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship in Welding on Monday with signing ceremonies at their respective schools.

A partnership among Caterpillar, Central Carolina Community College and Lee County Schools, the apprenticeship trains high school students for a high-demand career and helps provide the skilled workforce needed for Caterpillar and other high-tech industries to succeed. Soon after the innovative program was created by the local groups years ago, it was praised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2013 as a “partnership worth repeating.”

Speaking at Lee County High School, Caterpillar section manager Dan Johnson said that more than 25% of the current welding workforce in Sanford began in the apprenticeship program.

“It’s an opportunity,” he told the six members of the apprenticeship class that begins this fall. “It’s not only an opportunity for you, but it’s an opportunity for the community and an opportunity for Caterpillar.”

The earlier of the two celebrations was held in the Southern Lee Media Center, where Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan began by congratulating 10 inductees sitting in the front row and welcoming an audience of more than 50 people to what he called “one of our favorite annual celebrations.”

Bryan told the group that the Caterpillar apprenticeship not only provides a valuable educational and career opportunity for the students, but it has significant economic development benefits for the entire community. “This is a great partnership,” he said, “that combines important learning with real-world application.”

Central Carolina President Dr. Lisa M. Chapman said she agreed with Bryan’s comments echoed everything Bryan said and then told the students the college was there to help them to achieve their goals — but achieving those goals would take their commitment to the work ahead.

“That applied education is just as important as the education you get in the classroom and in the lab, just as important as that education you get when you’re out at Caterpillar working,” she said. “And you want to commit to both of those, to give 100%.”

The new program participants from Lee County High School are Brian Jimenez Albino, Emilee Dillon, Victor Gonzalez Miner, Christopher Miranda Perez, Brandon Valtierra and Cameron Vaughan.

The new participants from Southern Lee High School are Christian Ayala, Maritza Alarez Castaneda, Alexander Davidson, Cameron Key, Justin McLeod, Denizerick Leach, Cassy Penny, Cristian Castro Reyes, Brandon Rodriguez and Alex Touchard.

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