Home Local News Richmond Senior students become pioneers in apprenticeship program

Richmond Senior students become pioneers in apprenticeship program

Richmond Senior High School held its first apprenticeship signing in the media center on Wednesday. From left: Ahmad Shelton, Angel Smith, Jonathan Sweetman and Eduardo Mendez Guerrero.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Four Richmond Senior High students on Wednesday signed on for apprenticeships with local companies in a variety of fields.

This was the first of such signings in the Media Center and school officials hope to have many more in the future.

“I am so happy this has finally happened,” said Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples. “We’ve been talking about this for two or three years … and finally today is here. 

“You guys are pioneers,” Maples said to the students: Eduardo Mendez Gurerrero, Ahmad Shelton, Angel Smith and Jonathan Sweetman.

Maples added that the signing wouldn’t have happened without the caliber of students, school staff — especially Career and Technical Education Director Greg Norton and Career Development Coordinator Jason Perakis — as well as the educational partners and companies that sponsor the apprenticeships.

Norton and Perakis have been instrumental in the program by going out and talking to industry leaders to find out what type of employees they need and how the school system can help prepare the students for a career, Maples said.

“There’s going to be students ready to dive into careers … and have a nice job and career waiting on them when they graduate from high school — if that’s your choice,” Maples said.

“This is a big, big deal,” said Richmond Community College President Dr. Dale McInnis.

The college has partnered with local businesses, like Volumetric Building Companies, to provide training for employees.

“This is the wave of the future,” McInnis added. “This is what’s happening across the rest of the country and the rest of this state and we are right on the cutting edge of what’s expected for both our current companies and the businesses we want to attract to our region.”

Three of the four students are already taking classes at RichmondCC.

Perakis, who focuses on work-based learning, said the goal of the RCS Strategic Plan is that every student graduate from high school “established in a purposeful pathway” —  whether that be a two- or four-year college, military or employment.

Through the apprenticeship program, Perakis said the students’ tuition for college classes will be paid by the state.

Guerrero, the first to sign, is apprenticed at VBC, which manufactures housing. He has taken several carpentry classes.

Training Manager Dr. Clifton Dial said Gurerro started as an intern in October and presented the student with a certificate of appreciation for helping to translate documents from English into Spanish.

Citing labor statistics from 2019, Dial said that the average age of a construction worker is 47.


“So how do we refill that soon-to-be-exiting workforce?” Dial asked. “With programs like this and relationships with the high schools and community colleges and the community as a whole.”

Although several students have had internships with Superior Cranes, Perakis said Shelton is the first to sign up for an apprenticeship.

Shelton has taken drafting and welding classes.

Engineer Chris McKay said Shelton is learning computer-aided design (CAD).

Both Dial and McKay said they wished there had been a similar program when they were in high school.

“He is way ahead of where I was at this time,” McKay said about Shelton.

Perakis said they weren’t sure where they were going to place graphic arts students, like Smith, but found him an apprenticeship with East Coast Umbrella, just across the county line in Laurel Hill.

When he graduates, Smith will be enrolled in the digital media program at Sandhills Community College in Moore County and continue with the umbrella company, according to Perakis.

Sweetman, who is taking automotive classes, will be an apprentice at Griffin Auto Body Shop.

“We’re looking forward to having 20 in here next year,” Perakis said.

Read more about the CTE program here.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.