Opportunities for Lee County Youth

March 19, 2023 | Written by: Caitlin Moore

As we continue our conversation on education, I felt it necessary to speak on some of the programs that Lee County Schools offer. I know that I have heard of some but not all and am amazed at the opportunities that are out there for our students to develop into a strong workforce participant in the future.

Caterpillar has the Youth Welding Apprenticeship Program that is offered to Juniors in our high schools. A two-year apprenticeship program that is a vocational opportunity that tracks participating students into an adult apprenticeship, preparing them for employment at the Caterpillar Fabrications Sanford Facility or in similar industries. Students take classes at CCCC three days a week during their junior and senior years. In addition to their high school studies, they learn blueprint reading, workplace safety, and basic, stick plate, and inert gas welding. For two days a week, they are at the Caterpillar plant, receiving customized training through CCCC’s Industry Services Office. Students work with skilled welders while being paid, which starts at $12.15/hour, for their working and training time. During the summer between their junior and senior years, students work and train up to 32 hours per week as paid apprentices. How amazing is this? Once they graduate high school, not only do they have their high school diploma but they also have a Welding Certificate from CCCC, a N.C. Department of Labor certificate for completing the youth apprenticeship and have worked part-time at Caterpillar for two years. A career in the making right here in our town!

At Lee County and Southern Lee High Schools, they have career academies to jump start student careers. The academies bring education, business, and community leaders together to enhance the high school experience and prepare the student for a successful future. The Academy of Finance connects students with the world of financial services and personal finance, offering a curriculum that speaks on banking and credit, financial planning, global finance, securities, insurance, accounting, and more. The Academy of Engineering answers the need for engineers by educating them on the principles of engineering, information on multiple engineering fields such as mechanical, electrical, biotech, transportation, manufacturing, civil, computer, and architecture. The Academy of Hospitality & Tourism helps students navigate career paths in one of the world’s largest industries, from hotel and event management to sports and entertainment. The Academy of Life Sciences connects our high school students to a curriculum that covers the different aspects of the Life Sciences industry, including health care, counseling, mental health, dietitian/nutritionist, veterinarian, and health fitness science.

This is just a tidbit of what we have to offer to our young adults; how exciting are these opportunities? Isn’t it amazing that we already are a step ahead? However I also understand that not all are aware and not all understand how this all works, and that is ok. If you are a student, you are already busy with school classes but please take a moment and seek out your counselor or teacher and ask the question – what is here that I can do now to learn more about a career after high school? If you are a parent, have the same conversation at the dinner table with your child(ren) – what are you interested in as a career after high school and what can we do to help get you started now? If you are a business owner, how can you be part of the academies to open up more opportunities for the students in these fields? Or if you are a large industry, can you look into an apprenticeship program or something of this nature to offer our high school students?

We are all part of the education of our youth in one way or another. Let’s open up our minds to collectively helping them out to become the future workforce and leaders in our community and maybe even beyond the lines of Lee County.

Susan Gomez
Chamber of Commerce Director