SANFORD, N.C. - Eight students who successfully completed the two-year Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship in Welding this spring celebrated with family and friends on May 17 with an evening graduation ceremony at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic & Conference Center.
A partnership among Caterpillar, Central Carolina Community College and Lee County Schools, the apprenticeship trains high school students for a high-demand career and helps provide the skilled workforce needed for Caterpillar and other high-tech industries to succeed.
Soon after the innovative program was created by the local groups more than one decade ago, it was praised by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2013 as a "partnership worth repeating."
That was a point reinforced by CCCC President Dr. Lisa Chapman, whose opening remarks highlighted how this nationally renowned apprenticeship was formed. "We started this when we did not have youth apprenticeships across North Carolina and, suddenly, several of the folks involved in the beginning of this were asked if they would speak about our program, across the state, across the nation, and even internationally," she said before recounting how national leaders are now touting exactly this kind of youth apprenticeship.
"This is a big deal," she concluded. "This is a very big deal and we never want to minimize this partnership or our students' accomplishments."
Dr. Chris Dossenbach agrees. From his previous work as principal at Southern Lee High School to his current role as interim superintendent of Lee County Schools, Dossenbach has watched the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship develop and flourish.
"This has been a life-changing opportunity for students," he said. "With no cost to families, Caterpillar apprentices get hands-on training at a world-renowned company while they're still in high school and move quickly into a lucrative and rewarding career. It's exactly the kind of opportunity educators all across our community have been working hard to create."
Graduates received a 12-hour Industrial Systems Certificate from CCCC, a High School Recognition Certificate from the North Carolina Community College System, accrued work hours that will be applied toward their adult apprenticeship and a preferred employment opportunity at Caterpillar in Sanford.
Class of 2023 graduates are Travis Brown, Vivian Cole, Alvaro Herrera-Alvarado, Jackson Howell, Caleb Jackson, William "Gabe" Little, Isaiah Taylor and Felyx Turrubiates.
Student speaker Gabe Little said the apprenticeship has provided him with work experience, income, "a little taste of college" and helped prepare him for the world ahead. "I have grown from it," he told about 80 people in the audience. "And I've watched everyone here grow from our time here."
During the 25-minute ceremony -- one that also included insights from CCCC Dean of Business and Applied Technologies Dr. Drew Goodson and Lee County Schools Director of Career and Technical Education Gary Hart -- new apprenticeship students forming the Class of 2025 were welcomed, all of them marking the occasion in Caterpillar shirts and caps.
Class of 2025 inductees are Timothy Bullard, Joshua Caballero, Danis Cabrera Benitez, Alan Espana Maravilla, Alicia Garcia, Camden Johnson, Bryton Kelly, Alex Lecorchick, Eric Morales, Eric Noyola Rivera, Zuleima Torres Ortiz, Julien Popoca, Zachary Rowan, Grace Shover, Kyle Shrestha and Braxton Varner.
Caterpillar Section Manager Dan Johnson, who manages the apprenticeship program for his company, commended everyone on stage for accepting a challenge -- and an opportunity -- that the new inductees cannot yet fully imagine.
"This is Caterpillar's present," he said, looking toward the evening's graduates, "and these are Caterpillar's future," he said, turning to the inductees. Then, Johnson spoke directly to the parents, first listing some of the company officials dedicated to helping apprentices thrive.
"What I'm telling you is they're supported and that is what this whole thing is all about," he said. "We support them in everything they do."
Eight students have successfully completed the two-year Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship in Welding this spring.
These students are the newest inductees into the two-year Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship in Welding.