It pays to be an apprentice

Aivy Nguyen and Maceo Shivers are Olympic High graduates participating in a four-year apprenticeship program that began when they were juniors. Aivy, who graduated in 2014, is apprenticed to Chiron America Inc., a machine and systems manufacturer. She works in automation as a programmer. Maceo, a 2013 graduate, is apprenticed to Bosch-Rexroth Corp., an engineering firm. He is a computer numeric-controlled machinist. Both are attending Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC).

Olympic partners with companies that are part of Apprenticeship 2000 and Apprenticeship Charlotte. Students participating in the program are provided with free higher education, a salary and skills in a competitive trade. They also receive a certification as a journeyman in the field.

Preparing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students with a high school degree and a strong post-secondary plan is a district goal. The process begins in kindergarten and continues through the next 12 years of education. Industry-driven education and career-training is one way the district prepares students and links K-12 schools, community colleges and private employers.

apprenticeship_insidepic1.jpg"I've always been a hands-on person," said Aivy. "I was in my digital electronics class when I saw a flier about the apprenticeships. My parents and I went to the open house to find out more. They were a little hesitant about me applying but now they are glad I did because they see the benefits."

Aivy said she was shy when she started at Chiron but now conducts many of the student tours.

"I didn't like speaking in front of crowds before," she said. "But being here has taught me not only industry skills but communication skills. When I came to the company I felt a little intimidated because I wasn't sure I could keep up with the guys, but I can and I do. I'm more confident."

Aivy is the only female on the production floor. She said no one treats her differently. She is part of the team, which she describes as her extended family.

"Everyone has been willing to show me what they know," said Aivy. "I'll be traveling to Germany this summer to receive more training and to work on several projects for our parent company. I'm thankful for the opportunity. Advanced manufacturing is competitive so, as the company grows, I grow, too."

apprenticeship_insidepic2.jpgThis year, Maceo will complete his apprenticeship program and will graduate from CPCC. He is the first in his immediate family to graduate from college. He plans to continue with Bosch-Rexroth Corp. Maceo credits his career-focused studies at Olympic for leading him to his passion for building precision manufacturing equipment.

"When I attended Olympic I participated in Building Habitat houses. I took classes in drafting, carpentry, wood shop and principles of engineering," said Maceo. "I was offered opportunities that fit my needs and I took advantage of it."

Maceo said that precision is critical in the work he does.

"My attention to detail is the skill I've developed the most over time," he said. "When you are programming a machine, if you forget a decimal point it can cause a huge error."

Maceo is the oldest of five children and he talks to his siblings about his career. He'd like them to follow in his footsteps.

apprenticeship_insidepic3.jpg"They aren't interested in what I do right now," he said. "Even if they take another path, I want them to know they have to bring their A-game to school every day. If I hadn't had good grades and gone to school on time, companies wouldn't have considered me for an apprenticeship. Your freshman year in high school does matter."

Both students said Michael Realon, the school's coordinator for career technical education, was instrumental in their success.​

"Apprenticeships offer high school students a pathway for combining learning in the classroom with the development of valuable workplace skills in high-demand careers," said Realon. "With Charlotte-Mecklenburg ranking 99th out of America's 100 largest city-county areas in terms of local youth realizing upward economic and social mobility, apprenticeships have become an important component of the solution."

The other companies the school partners with are Siemens Energy, Groninger, Pfaff, Blum, Daetwyler, Sarstedt and Ameritech.