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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — A few times a week, the factory at Machine Specialists, Inc., in Guilford County, transforms into a classroom of sorts.

“It`s a lot of fun, just the fact that you can go in and program a machine to turn a block of medal  into something,” said Jackie Smith, a rising senior at Eastern Guilford. Smith is one of ten students selected to participate in the Guilford Apprenticeship Program (GAP).

GAP is a new four-year program that combines academics and hands-on experience with a job in the manufacturing sector. It emerged from the work of The Triad Workforce Collaborative, an initiative based out of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.

“I’m able to get out of high school at 12 o`clock every day, make some money and get my college paid for,” said Garrison Weavil, a rising senior at Southeast Guilford.

Through the program, the students will earn a two-year associates degree from GTCC, a Journeyman Certificate and paid college tuition.

“The most exciting part is finally getting to go to college because I never thought I`d be able to go,” said Abe McFadden, who graduated from Page High School in June.

MSI President Robert Simmons  said it’s a struggle to find skilled workers for their good-paying jobs. “We’re hoping that after four years, the relationship between us helping each other, they`ll want to stay here on board and keep working,” Simmons said.

It’s a win-win for both the companies and students.

“I thought you had to have a 4-year degree to make a lot of money and do big jobs,” McFadden said. “Now I see that you don`t have to have one.”