Volume 32, No. 5: Conference Session Highlights

Adults for Industrial Development: Getting Adults Ready for Manufacturing and Skilled Trades

Bettina Akukwe, Department Head, Workforce Programs, and Apprenticeship Implementer at Alamance Community College, Graham, NC

Career exploration plays a major role in career and technical education. Students who were not able to experience different career opportunities in high school often come to postsecondary education institutions with a lack of understanding of the programs being offered. This often leads to students being registered for programs that are not the best fit, possibly changing programs one or more times, or even ending up in careers they do not like.

To bridge that gap, in June 2022 Alamance Community College offered a four-week career exploration pre-apprenticeship for interested individuals with a high school diploma or GED. Tuition was covered by a Duke Energy/Piedmont Natural Gas Community College Apprenticeship grant, but students were also encouraged to apply for funding through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Recruitment was mainly done on social media, but we also handed out flyers and spoke to students at a job fair. We had twenty-three applicants, of whom eight committed to the program. Out of those eight, three had prior work experience, and five were coming straight out of high school.

Pre-apprentices experienced 160 hours of class instruction, training, and experiential learning. The foundation of the program was a nine-module class that introduced the core employment skills required to effectively enter the manufacturing workforce and a registered apprenticeship. Topics included workplace safety (including an OSHA-10 certificate), communication skills, industry overviews, tools and equipment, employability skills, personal health, and job preparation. Pre-apprentices also completed Six Sigma White Belt and Yellow Belt training to learn concepts and methodologies of lean manufacturing, thereby gaining a stronger understanding of processes and enabling themselves to provide meaningful assistance in achieving the organization’s overall objectives. As part of their experiential learning experience, pre-apprentices participated in hands-on activities in machining, welding, heating and air, computer-aided drafting, and automotive. After learning about different careers in these fields, pre-apprentices toured local businesses to experience these careers first-hand. They learned about water treatment and utilities management at a local municipality, explored the heating and refrigeration system of a supermarket, visited a car dealership garage, and toured five manufacturing companies producing anything from mattress fabrics and car headliners to production tools, heat exchangers, and valves.

At the end of the pre-apprenticeship, several of Alamance Community College’s employer partners joined the pre-apprentices for job interviews and live demonstrations. The goal was to place as many pre-apprentices as possible into apprenticeships. Alamance Community College offers a variety of youth and adult apprenticeships in mechatronics, industrial systems, machining, welding, heating and air, automotive, computer-aided drafting, information technology, and horticulture. We are also providing related instruction to the North Carolina Association of Electrical Contractors and the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina. Most of our apprenticeship partner companies are looking for newly hired apprentices, although some of them work with incumbent worker apprentices who need to upskill for promotions.

After the pre-apprenticeship, we spoke with all pre-apprentices about their experience and compiled a list of lessons learned. All of the pre-apprentices mentioned how much they appreciated the hands-on activities, so we will continue to put a focus on these in combination with facility tours. Lecture time will be reduced to the necessary minimum to allow students to experience hands-on activities. Lean Six Sigma training will be reserved for students with more experience.

Based on the feedback from our summer pre-apprentices and the lessons we have personally learned, Alamance Community College is currently running a modified pre-apprenticeship. Pre-apprentices receive classroom instruction, experience hands-on activities, and tour local companies on two evenings a week for eight weeks. By changing the setup of the class, we were able to attract older adults with more work experience. The feedback has been very positive so far.

This pre-apprenticeship is registered with the State of North Carolina (PA-002114). For more information, please contact the author at bakukwe514@alamancecc.edu.