Students receive on-the-job training, free college tuition and a guaranteed job upon graduation

The first students accepted into the GAP program participated in an official signing ceremony on Aug. 25, 2016 at GTCC. (Courtesy of Machine Specialties, Inc.)

The first students accepted into the GAP program participated in an official signing ceremony on Aug. 25, 2016 at GTCC. (Courtesy of Machine Specialties, Inc.)

By Carla Kucinski

JAMESTOWN — Creating something from nothing has always fascinated Jacques Bené; it came easy to him. He loved working with his hands, taking things apart and putting them back together again.

As a kid, he hung around a lot with his dad, observing and assisting him as he built his own race cars in his spare time. The feeling he got from creating something was like no other; it gave him a sense of pride and accomplishment, he said.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how things work,” said Bené, 18 of Greensboro.

Once he entered Northern Guilford High School, he picked up a drafting class, as well as an automotive and metals manufacturing class at Weaver Academy. He was hooked.

“I ended up liking it a whole lot more,” he said. “It opened me up to CNC, and I had never seen CNC before. … I excelled at it.”

So when an opportunity came along for him to turn his passion for tinkering into a career, he jumped on it.

Today, Bené is a GTCC student enrolled in Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP), an initiative which aims to bridge the GAP between high school graduates and career opportunities in advanced manufacturing.

The four-year program allows Bené to gain hands-on experience working in the manufacturing industry, while pursuing his associate degree in manufacturing technology at GTCC.

Over the next four years, he will work 8,000 hours at Machine Specialties, Inc., (MSI) in Whitsett, N.C., a company that manufactures precision parts for industries from aerospace to medical, and be exposed to various jobs including CNC machinist. In exchange, MSI not only pays for Bené’s hours on the job, but also his tuition, books and classroom hours at GTCC.

At the end of his four years, Bené will be completely debt free. He’ll also be guaranteed a job at MSI, have earned his associate degree from GTCC, as well as a journeyman certificate, which is recognized by the N.C. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Labor. The certification tells an employer that the employee has completed coursework and on-the-job training hours.

“It was a perfect match,” Bené said. “It’s opened up the doorway for me to do what I wanted to do in my career. It’s given me the ability to go to school.”

GAP is sponsored by Triad Workforce Solutions Collaborative/Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and the Greensboro Partnership. GTCC, Guilford County Schools (GCS) and the North Carolina Department of Commerce support the program along with six manufacturing companies in the Triad including ABCO Automation, Inc.; Bright Plastics; Machine Specialties, Inc.; Precor; Purolator Facet, Inc.; TE Connectivity.

This year, MSI has recruited nine apprentices as part of GAP. Tammy Simmons, MSI’s human resources director, said that MSI and other partners are struggling to find highly skilled employees to grow their business. GAP offered a solution; it’s a win-win for the apprentice and the employer.

“This looked like a new way for us to recruit and train talented machinists,” Simmons said. “The partners gain good employees who want to be trained in these skills and have the talent to be good at it. The student gets a fast pass to a solid career, learning highly sought-after job skills that will keep them employed. They get the opportunity to learn from the best. … We are offering them free college and a paycheck, and a skill that is needed where the jobs are and will be in the future.”

Currently, there are 14 apprentices participating in GAP; eight of those students are enrolled at GTCC, pursuing an associate degree in manufacturing technology. The students were recruited in fall 2015 and spring 2016 through presentations at area high schools. They then went through an application process that included an interview, a small project and testing. Now, as apprentices, they have the opportunity to become a CNC set-up machinist, tool and dye journeyman, chemical engineer, quality technician, CMM technician, maintenance mechanic, CAD programmer, mechanical engineer, and more.

“The biggest thing our students get is on-the-job training,” said Randy Gunter, division chair of Industrial, Construction and Transportation Technologies (ICT) at GTCC. “For our industry partners, they’re essentially growing their own workforce.”

So far, the experience has been, in Bené’s words, “wonderful.” He spent the summer training at MSI as part of the application process. He made the cut and started his full apprenticeship on Aug. 15. As an apprentice, Bené is trained by other employees on various techniques and equipment.

“I’ve learned enormous amounts,” Bené said. “One of the biggest things I learned was being able to program the CNC machines by hand. … I learned special measuring tools, procedures on finishing parts. … They teach me the basics, and once they feel comfortable, and I feel comfortable, they step away, but they’re still within distance if I need anything. You need to be able to make those mistakes in order to learn.”

For more information about the GAP program, visit or contact Randy Gunter, division chair of Industrial, Construction and Transportation Technologies (ICT) at GTCC, at 336-334-4822, ext. 53128 or


— Sept. 6, 2016