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April 17, 2024 6:02 am

College apprenticeship program benefits from appropriations package

Lavar Elliott, a Maintenance Technician apprentice with Smithfield Foods, works in a lab at Wayne Community College during a Mechatronics class.

GOLDSBORO — Wayne Community College’s apprenticeship program was a beneficiary of the U.S. Congress’ Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Package.

A $651,000 Community Project Funding request made by then-Congressman G.K. Butterfield was included in the bill for expansion of the college’s apprenticeship program. The funding will be used to enhance the college’s established apprenticeship training programs as well as develop new apprenticeship programs. It will also cover some tuition and fees and allow for the purchase of related equipment such as trainers and simulators.

“We will be upgrading, adding and replacing,” said WCC Associate Dean of Career Programs and Applied Technologies Todd King. “We are equipment reliant.”

More than half of the appropriation will pay for equipment such as programmable logic controller trainers, pneumatic trainers, a hydraulic trainer, an Industry 4.0 trainer, motors and controls, manual lathes and computer numerical control mills to replace older pieces and provide additional machines.

These pieces will go into the future Center for Industrial Technology and Engineering. Apprentices and other students in Industrial Systems, Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics, Machining and Operations Management programs will use them.

A portion of the funding is designated to cover half of tuition and fees for Maintenance Technician and Operations Management apprentices, with the employer paying the other half. “This is so that companies looking for the next generation of maintenance worker will have some skin in the game,” said Director of Apprenticeships Kristie Sauls.

Resources made possible by this funding “will allow us the opportunity to create another avenue for apprenticeships,” Sauls said. “We won’t have to create anything new, just new for us.”

A planned nursing apprenticeship will benefit from a patient simulator and other equipment and tuition and fees included in the budget. “We are looking to fall 2024 for a nursing apprenticeship,” Sauls said. “We can build on the Sterilization Technician apprenticeship which is new this spring with UNC Health Wayne. As they see success with that, we hope it will open the door for Nursing.”

King said short-term apprenticeships in fields such as HVAC, carpentry and electricity are on the horizon.

“Companies look to WCC for skilled workers. WCC has a proven track record of working with these local and regional industries like Smithfield Foods and Mt. Olive Pickle Company to develop apprenticeship programs that are tailored to their specific needs and that help develop employees to take ‘hard-to-fill’ positions within their companies,” Butterfield said.

“This money is helping the college to be competitive by allowing us to help offset the cost of school and providing state of the art equipment for a new building.” Sauls said.

WCC’s allocation was one of several requests totaling $32,879,497 that Butterfield made for projects across the First Congressional District of North Carolina.

“It is gratifying that our government leaders see the value in apprenticeships and the need to build a stronger, more robust workforce,” said Sauls. “This is win-win. It is supporting the community college and local businesses.”

“I am a product of eastern North Carolina, and it has been the honor of my life to represent the First District for the past 18 years in Congress. The First District has given so much to me not only over the past 18 years, but all my life. I am incredibly proud to have secured this funding that will have a profound impact in the district long after I’m gone,” said Butterfield.

WCC President Patty Pfeiffer agreed that the funding will positively affect the college’s efforts and the community. “Apprentices earn both college and industry-recognized credentials while also filling a pipeline to help meet industry needs,” she said. “Wayne Community College is very grateful to former Congressman G.K. Butterfield and his team who worked with our college to secure funds through the U.S. Department of Labor to support the expansion of our apprenticeship programs.”

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, WCC is one of 144 colleges included in the appropriations package. They will be provided “community project funding” from the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor and Health and Human Services for 163 projects.