GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — According to The Federal Reserve, student loan debt in the United States surpassed $1.7 trillion dollars at the end of 2020. For students coming out of high school, the idea of graduating college with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt can be daunting, which is why programs such as the Guilford Apprenticeship Program (GAP) are becoming more appealing.
“Apprenticeship is really starting to take off across the United States,” says Laurie Bargebuhr, Guilford Technical Community College Apprenticeship Coordinator. “This is a model that’s been in place in Europe for a long time.”
In 2016, local businesses came together to fill a need for employees with specific skill sets. When those businesses joined to make an apprenticeship program, it provided high school juniors and seniors with a unique opportunity; go to school, take college courses, earn a degree debt-free, all while getting paid.
“At the end of the four-year program they have 8,000 hours of work and school that they have been compensated for,” Bargebuhr explains.
Bargebuhr adds the program has grown every year since 2016, and while the pandemic has made it more challenging to connect with students, the program is still seeing a good rate of applications.
GAP currently offers apprenticeships in four industry sectors, including advanced manufacturing, IT, automotive and HVAC. In total, there are more than 30 Guilford County companies offering apprenticeships to GAP participants.
“I found that this laid a better foundation, so I could understand and be better in the field that I want to go in eventually,” says Sean Haboon, an apprentice quality engineer with Bright Plastics, who’s in his fourth year of the GAP program.
Upon completion, students earn an Associate of Applied Science degree from GTCC, and with all tuition, books and fees covered, they get that degree debt-free.
“I was worried that my mom would end up in a lot of debt, as would I and my siblings,” says Courtney Smith, a third-year apprentice studying advanced manufacturing. “I definitely would recommend it to students who have an aptitude for math and think that they work better hands-on.”
In addition to obtaining specialized certification and experience, apprentices also have the option of transferring credits to most North Carolina four-year universities in the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.
“Your school hours, when you go to school, it counts towards your work hours and you’re getting paid for it,” adds Niiodoi Yememofio, second-year apprentice with Culp Home Fashions. “I’d say the only thing you pay for is your gas and that’s pretty much it.”
Bargebuhr says there have been talks of expanding the program in the future. To learn more, click here.