GREENVILLE, North Carolina – As communities nationwide are working to address labor force dilemmas, such as the silver tsunami, an innovative program in Pitt County is finding unique ways to transform the workforce. Tradesformers, a youth apprenticeship group, is changing the way high school juniors and seniors are exposed to non-traditional careers in trades industries.
“We work to connect talented students to industry trades in our area. This involves on the job training, an hourly base pay, opportunity for experience and career advancement, and industry recognized credentials,” said Simone Pate, who serves as the work-based learning coordinator for Pitt County Schools.
Interested students are eligible to apply for Tradesformers at the beginning of eleventh grade. They’re vetted throughout the year and eventually interview with different businesses that are industry partners of the organization. The unique program is helping these companies address labor force problems as they look to grow and fill positions left vacant by retirees.
“Once they’re matched with a business, they can begin working part-time as youth apprentices during their senior year. Some even start the summer before the school year begins because they’re so excited to make money and start their training,” shared Pate.
Tradesformers serves as the liaison between Pitt County Schools, ApprenticeshipNC, and area businesses. After these students graduate from high school, they become apprentices and obtain the certifications needed to continue their careers.
“Tradesformers aligns both with our desire to begin developing pipelines of future employees and with our efforts to diversify our workforce,” said Richie Shreves, director of human resources for Greenville Utilities Commission (GUC).
GUC’s electric department is in its second year with Tradesformers. The utility company says the program has been effective in identifying students who have an interest in becoming lineworkers. These roles are increasingly difficult to fill with qualified candidates.
“Not everyone has a desire to pursue a four-year degree and that is honestly a good thing,” admitted Shreves. “It is important for everyone to recognize the value and importance trades careers play in the continued success of our community and in society as a whole. The students in this program recognize the importance of trades, they have a passion to become skilled trades people and come eager to learn and excel.”
As a result of their partnership with Tradesformers, earlier this year GUC hired a youth apprentice full-time as a third class lineworker. This school year, they have two pre-apprentice lineworkers who will learn basic construction principles and safe work habits. The program is proving successful for many trades-related companies that need to hire employees as they look to grow or fill roles left vacant by retirees.
“We got involved with Tradesformers because we needed a pipeline of skilled workers to continue to grow our company and meet current demands for work,” said Rachel Davis, operations manager for Advance Mechanical. “The students we’ve been matched with are great. They come to us with an existing desire to work and learn. They are humble and willing to start at the bottom and move their way up.”
As a heating and air conditioning company, Advance Mechanical has locations throughout eastern North Carolina. According to Davis, the company’s involvement with Tradesformers has changed the way they approach hiring and training.
“The students are paired with an experienced employee in our company. They learn about HVAC install, service, maintenance, and sheet metal fabrication,” explained Davis. “Since launching our partnership two years ago, we’ve gone on to hire four of our youth apprentices.”
According to Elizabeth Standafer, Ed.D., youth apprenticeship manager for ApprenticeshipNC of the North Carolina Community College System, 93 percent of students complete their apprenticeship.
“This has positive implications for post-secondary completion and credentialing since those are tied to the registered apprenticeship program,” said Standafer, who works closely with Tradesformers and Pitt Community College. “This also provides a career path for the student, in addition to the employer obtaining a fully trained employee who is trained the way that they want them trained.”
“We are so fortunate to have Tradesformers in our community and in our high schools. It’s a great way to show potential new companies that we have a young, skilled labor force that wants to work and wants to have a career in various trades fields such as construction, manufacturing, and servicing,” said Uconda Dunn, vice president of business development for the Greenville Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Alliance.
The Greenville ENC Alliance is proud to serve as a community sponsor of this program. As far as economic development efforts of attracting new business and retaining current, it’s a win-win approach to establishing a skilled labor force.
“The employers win because they’re matched up with eager students who want to work and the students win because they’re given the resources and training that they need to launch their career right out of high school,” said Dunn.
For industries that are struggling to find employees and get younger workers interested in trades careers, Pate recommends that other companies and communities consider this type of partnership program.
“It fills the gap between those students who do not want to pursue a four-year degree and great skilled trades employers looking to hire life-long employees,” said Pate. “By offering this program to students, it helps students stay on track to graduate high school, gain valuable training, and help to grow the local economy.”
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