Apprenticeships benefit student, company

By Joni Ransom

Central Community College (CCC) Apprenticeship Director Catrina Gray has spent the last two years being a bit of an apprentice herself.

Since accepting the position in November 2020, she has been learning the ins and outs of the program she now oversees.

“They (the college) had an idea of what they wanted the program to look like,” she said. “I needed to figure out how to do it.”

Gray started with her existing contacts at CCC and area businesses and industries, but made her most consequential call to the Nebraska Department of Labor (DOL).

“They were nice enough to let me join almost every meeting,” she said. “I took every opportunity to learn as much as I could.”

She also invited DOL employees to her first informational meetings so they could give her feedback or hop in if she didn’t know the answer.

“I don’t know how else I would have learned all I did without them,” she said.

Gray’s meetings took her to classrooms, workplaces and communities to talk to CCC students, current employees wanting to advance in their companies, and job seekers unaffiliated with CCC or any company.

In April 2021, the first companies, CNH and A & E Electric, registered for CCC’s apprenticeship program. This set the stage for the college to join the state’s registered apprenticeship system and then to launch its first pilot in August 2021 with four apprentices, two working at each company.

The program now boasts eight companies and 15 apprentices with three more in the application process. To qualify, students must pass a drug test, have at least a 2.0 GPA and make a commitment to the company of one to four years, depending on the occupation.

In return, the company agrees to provide a mentor and pay for the apprentice’s education. Each week, the apprentice works 25 hours and attends school seven hours for a 32-hour paycheck with benefits. These wages usually fall between $22 and $26, Gray said, and apprentices are eligible for raises, too.

“Apprenticeships are a learn-and-earn program that helps employers retain and sustain their workforce,” she said.

Helping apprentices be successful, though, sometimes goes beyond the classroom or the workplace. Gray works with CCC and community resources when students need help with such things as food, transportation and day care.

“Many of the students are trying to transfer into the middle class,” Gray said. “It’s rewarding to be able to help them up.”

The program was perfect for Eric Orozco, who loves to weld. He’s a welding major at CCC-Grand Island who, for almost a year now, has also worked as a welder at Chief Fabrication, making parts for Case IH and John Deere combines.

“I’m welding all the time,” he said. “I learn something every day.”

This article originally appeared here.

Joni Ransom

is chief of staff at Central Community College in Grand Island, Nebraska.