Guilford County program helps teens find apprenticeships

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In this era, in which it seems almost every high school kid wants to sign a letter of intent to play a sport in college, Guilford County seems to have found a way to tap into that feeling.

When a major recruit signs with the big, local school, TV stations often show the, “signing ceremony,” live.

The athlete pulls on the hat with the logo of the chosen school and the crowd applauds.

So the Guilford Apprenticeship Program thought, “What if we do something similar for those kids earning scholarships just as valuable as what the latest sports star gets from UNC or NC State? What if we had our own signing ceremony for young people who are in our program?”

That was the idea Todd Poteat and the other founders of the GAP Program had when they started this concept four years ago.

Poteat works for Bright Plastics and they built the program to help all of the manufacturing in the region.

Guilford County is the largest manufacturing county in North Carolina and among the two or three biggest manufacturing counties in the Southeast.

“This is where things are made and so when things are made, you need top technical talent and everybody in the country is struggling to find that talent,” Poteat said. “(The companies) can buy equipment but you can't go buy the people to run that equipment.”

You have to attract and train them and that’s what the GAP Program is all about.

The signing ceremony is a neat way to tie it into the things that are top-of-mind for today’s teenagers.

“I thought of it sort of like a signing ceremony for sports except it's more on the academic side of things,” said Josh Vickrey, who played baseball at Southeast Guilford High School.

He signed his letter to be an apprentice at MAC Panel, which does a lot of metalwork.

For Josh, this program is every bit as valuable – in some ways, more valuable – than signing an athletic scholarship.

“Similar to baseball with the apprenticeship program, if you like the job pretty well and want to turn it into a career, you can turn it into a career,” Vickrey said.

Seventy-eight students were part of the signing ceremony at the Koury Convention Center. That’s nearly double the number from the year before and the people who run the program think it’s become a model for the state.

Now, it’s just a matter of the young people in or just finishing high school realizing the opportunity that awaits them.

“They don't really understand just how important and how good of an opportunity it is,” said Bradley Biles, who was a swimmer at Southwest Guilford High School.

He will now apprentice at Machine Specialties while he earns his four-year college degree, completely paid for with his GAP Program apprenticeship.

See the other big announcement that was revealed at this year’s signing ceremony in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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