Best Practices
January 30, 2013

Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program - A Partnership worth Repeating

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The U.S. manufacturing sector is more productive than ever, yet it is continually confronted with the challenge of finding technically trained people to work on its modern equipment. Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc. is no different. Last year, Caterpillar’s Sanford, North Carolina Fabrication Facility (part of the company’s Building and Construction Products Division) partnered with Central Carolina Community College (CCCC), Lee County Schools, and the N.C. Department of Labor to address the need of building a pipeline of skilled welders at the facility.

Working together, Caterpillar, CCCC’s Industry Services Office and welding program, and Lee County Schools developed an apprenticeship program that is recognized as a registered apprenticeship program through the state Department of Labor. In June 2012, 17 high school students from two high schools in North Carolina were inducted into the first class of the Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program.

The Caterpillar Youth Apprenticeship Program is a two-year training program that leads into a second apprenticeship upon graduation from high school. Students are prepared specifically for employment at the Caterpillar facility in Sanford.

In addition to their required high school studies, the students spend part of their time three days a week at CCCC learning blueprint reading, workplace safety, and basic, stick plate and inert gas welding.

For part of two days a week, they are actually at the Caterpillar plant, receiving customized training through CCCC's Industry Services Office as well as accelerated training through Caterpillar. During the summers, they work and train at Caterpillar up to 32 hours per week as paid apprentices, working alongside skilled welders.

Further, because the welding classes are taught at the community college, they carry honors program weight, earning students extra points for their grade point average.

Upon completion of the program, graduates will have:

  • Earned a Welding Certificate from Central Carolina Community College

  • Earned a certificate from the North Carolina Department of Labor indicating successful completion of the apprenticeship

  • Completed the 80-hour Caterpillar Accelerated Training Program

  • Completed hours to be credited toward their second apprenticeship

  • Two years of experience as a part-time Caterpillar employee

This apprenticeship program is sparking statewide and national interest as an innovative and practical way for industry to build a strong pipeline of skilled workers, while ensuring students are leaving the school system with a marketable trade prepared for a career. 

Following Sanford’s lead, other Caterpillar facilities around the country are exploring the potential in their respective states to implement similar programs. The partnership between the company, the community college, and the high schools demonstrates the need to adapt our education curriculums to meet the needs of both students and industry. Caterpillar believes this program serves as a role model for balancing academic knowledge with practical hands-on experiences, while building critical thinking skills.

This article appears in ICW's January 2013 newsletter.