Governor Roy Cooper visited Wayne Community College on Thursday to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week and announce the launch of the Southeastern Education and Economic Development (SEED) initiative.
A partnership between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) and Smithfield Foods, SEED is a comprehensive youth apprenticeship program that will provide career pathways and college education for high school students in southeastern North Carolina counties.
“Today’s high school students are tomorrow’s workforce,” said Governor Cooper. “Youth apprenticeship programs like the SEED initiative will provide students with an opportunity to learn valuable skills while getting on-the-job training. Our top-tier workforce is the reason North Carolina is ranked the best state for business for two years in a row and we need to ensure they graduate with the necessary skills to be successful in our growing economy.”
“Through the $12.5 million expansion fund program launched in 2022, we have delivered nearly $4.5 million to apprentices and apprenticeship programs across the state, impacting the lives of 1,119 apprentices. This investment is a testament to our dedication to providing quality education and training opportunities, ensuring that North Carolinians are equipped with the skills needed to thrive in today’s job market and beyond,” said North Carolina Community College System President Jeff Cox.
Youth apprenticeship programs offer students the opportunity to jump-start their careers while still in high school. Students accepted into the SEED program will begin their pre-apprenticeship program as 11th or 12th graders, taking community college classes, participating in paid work-based learning, and having access to mentors in the company sponsoring their work-based learning experience.
“Wayne Community College is dedicated to meeting the workforce needs of our local businesses and industries,” said Wayne Community College President Dr. Patty Pfeiffer. “Educating students about career opportunities as early as middle school, and building on that throughout their high school and college classes is very important. Offering worked-based programs like apprenticeships to high school students provides them with training opportunities and a potential career pathway.”
In North Carolina, students who participate in these programs in high school can take advantage of the apprenticeship waiver and receive tuition-free courses for their aligned degrees from the community college to continue their education. The waiver, outlined in the NC General Statute, covers fees for curriculum-related instruction for apprentices after high school graduation, providing incentives for both the employer and the apprentices.
During SEED’s first year, the career pathway will be industrial technology. Through the apprenticeship program, students will take up to 15 hours of transferable community college classes at Lenoir or Wayne Community Colleges and participate in paid work-based learning training on industrial maintenance. Upon graduation, students can continue into a registered apprenticeship program, working towards an Associate degree in Industrial Technology.
Students in the SEED apprenticeship program will earn an Industrial Systems Technology Certificate, a Career Readiness Certificate, apprenticeship hours that will transfer to an adult apprenticeship program, and preferred employment opportunities at Smithfield Foods (pending meeting full-time employment requirements). In subsequent years, the program will expand to include pathways in farm leadership and business operations.
“Smithfield is strongly committed to making sure students have educational opportunities that will fuel their careers in the years ahead,” said Steve Evans, vice president of community development for Smithfield. “Our goal is to develop the next generation of leaders through supporting education in our communities, and the SEED program is a great way to help these students jump-start their early career development.”
Since many students have barriers which make them unable to take advantage of apprenticeship programs, SEED will provide students with salaries of $15 per hour for 30 hours of work per week and a monthly stipend of $350 for materials and transportation. Students in the program will also have access to laptops and wi-fi hotspots in order to be successful in their community college courses.
Students begin to make career and college decisions in middle school, and the SEED program will also include career awareness opportunities for middle school students as well as professional development opportunities for teachers and counselors. SEED will sponsor parent and student nights to help families understand apprenticeship programs and what those career pathways look like.
The program will begin in Wayne, Lenoir, Jones, and Greene counties. Next school year, it will expand to Duplin, Sampson, and Wilson counties, and the following year, to Bladen and Columbus counties. The grant will fund support for an apprenticeship hub at each pilot community college. The SEED program is planning to expand to include other employers and philanthropic partners interested in supporting education and providing career opportunities in North Carolina.