By Chasidy Rae Sisk
In an effort to reduce the ongoing tech shortage problem plaguing the automotive industry, the Independent Garage Owners of North Carolina (IGONC) is sponsoring the North Carolina Automotive Apprenticeship Program. Employers can participate at no cost, and students can obtain a free education while earning wages at a part-time job. According to IGONC Executive Director Bob Pulverenti, “The North Carolina Automotive Apprenticeship Program is for any high school senior who is interested in pursuing a career as an automotive technician in NC. A lack of qualified technicians is hurting the industry, and this is a great way to turn that shortage around.”
The North Carolina Automotive Apprenticeship Program is open to high school seniors who must register with the program and be placed with an approved shop prior to graduating. Once the student enters the apprenticeship, “There are tasks that a student must show proficiency of over the course of the program, and that list is available to them prior to registering. Providing that the student is mastering the tasks and meeting their hours at school and in the shop, their tuition is waived. They are actually making a good wage while they work, and they come out of school with a degree, certified apprenticeship, journeyman’s card, and no debt,” Pulverenti says.
While shops interested in participating as an employer must be in good standing with the association, there are no other charges related to the program other than paying their part-time employee. Pulverenti states, “If a shop wants a good pool of qualified talent to hire from in the future, it is important for them to nurture the technicians of tomorrow today. The response from shop owners has been overwhelming. As many see it, they are growing their own employees and are able to train them right from the start.”
Regarding IGONC’s decision to be the program’s primary sponsor, Pulverenti explained, “The amount of work it would have taken for just one of our shops to get this done would have been enormous. With the association stepping in to manage all of the details, the shops are now able to focus on training the next generation of technicians. There are apprentice groups trying to get employers to pay thousands of dollars a year to participate, but we decided that, as an association, we wanted to be able to provide this as a service to our members and to the industry as a whole.”
IGONC has worked diligently to make the dream of the North Carolina Automotive Apprenticeship Program into reality. “It took quite a bit of digging to get to the right people and finally make this happen. The apprentice program has been around for a number of years, but there was no one focused on making it available to automotive students. Whenever you work within a large chain of people, you always seem to run into those who want to put in the least amount of effort and will continue to pass you off, and we ran into a lot of that,” Pulverenti recalls.
Pulverenti continues, “Finally, we met with Shante Bell, who coordinates the North Central Region of the apprentice program for the NC Community College system. She was able to help us get all the pieces in place and connect us with folks around the state who work with the students we need to reach to make this program a success. Altogether, we have been trying to get this done for over two and a half years, and we are thrilled it has finally paid off!”
Despite having little time to kick off the program after the paperwork was completed in April and before students graduated in June, the North Carolina Automotive Apprenticeship Program is already underway with several new apprentices placed in NC shops.
Looking to the future of the program, Pulverenti plans, “We will be working to add a pre-apprentice program over the next year so that students can register at age 16 and shift into the apprentice program when it’s time to graduate from high school. We will also be focusing more on reaching out to students earlier in their schooling to let them know this is a pathway they can plan for as they go through school.”
Students and shops interested in participating in the North Carolina Automotive Apprenticeship Program can contact IGONC Marketing and Communications Director Tricia Sauls via email: Tricia@igonc.com. The program’s Facebook page can be found at facebook.com/NCAutoApprentice/.