Signing Day for 15 New Apprentices Means a Degree & a Paycheck While in High School

Six local companies have 15 new workers on the floor, after a RockATOP signing ceremony at Rockingham Community College on Tuesday evening, Aug. 13.

Through Rockingham Apprenticeship & Technical Opportunities Partnership, more commonly known as RockATOP, the manufacturers, Rockingham County Schools, and RCC in February invited high school students to show off their skills and determination. Each company then chose summer pre-apprentices. And last week, the students, some of whom are high school graduates now, officially signed on to continue as apprentices.

Rock-ATOP Apprenticeship Program signs 15 new students who will gain hands-on job skills while earning a degree and a paycheck.

RockATOP enables these students to begin a career during high school and bring home a paycheck for time at school and work – approximately 8,000 hours during the four-year program. Eventually, the apprenticeships will graduate from RCC with an Applied Science degree, already with certifications and credentials in hand.

Students from Dalton McMichael, Morehead, Rockingham County and Reidsville high schools, and Community Baptist Schools, committed to the following companies:

ABCO Automation

  • Cheyenne Burnette (RCHS senior)
  • Joseph Ryan (CBS graduate)

Bridgestone Aircraft Tire

  • Ian Bartlett (RCHS senior)
  • John Bray (DMHS senior)

Machine Specialties Inc. 

  • Brantley “Gage” Butler (RCHS graduate)
  • James Flint (MHS senior)
  • Fredrick “Colby” Harris (MHS senior)
  • Christopher Paschal (RCHS senior)
  • Devon “Blake” Strader (RCHS senior)

Pine Hall Brick

  • Braxton French (MHS senior)

Sturm, Ruger & Co.

  • Destiny Bowman (MHS graduate)
  • Tyler Frazier (MHS graduate)

Wieland Copper Products

  • Cole Hopkins (DMHS graduate)
  • Rishard Jumper (MHS graduate)
  • Tatyanna Wimple (RHS senior)

RockATOP is a partnership of Rockingham County Schools, RCC, “and most importantly, the industry community that is supportive of this because we cannot do this without (them),” said RCC President Dr. Mark Kinlaw.

Turning to the apprentices, he said, “You are embarking on a journey that is leading toward really good things. To our business partners, I can’t thank you enough for working with them, and hopefully you will see the fruits of this… with employees later on down the road.” He thanked parents for supporting the RockATOP initiative.

“I think this is going to make a major difference in employment in our county,” Kinlaw said. “We want our business partners to be successful so they can expand and stay here, and it’s a good initiative to have out there as we try to attract other industries to Rockingham County.”

Rockingham County Commissioner Mark Richardson introduced keynote speaker Leigh Cockram, director of the county’s Economic Development, Small Business and Tourism, whom he noted is a successful entrepreneur. He said the decision to join RockATOP speaks volumes about the character and decision-making ability of the students.

“Did you know there are roughly 1,000 jobs available in Rockingham County right now? Our problem is having enough qualified people,” Richardson said. “We in Rockingham County are selfish. We want to keep our best and brightest close … and this program goes a long way towards doing that.”

Cockram praised the students for taking advantage of the great RockATOP opportunity to gain real-world experience while earning a paycheck and a degree. She said most of the time when she works with industry, two themes pop up: not being able to get employees to come to work on time (if at all), and finding people who have the necessary experience or skills.

She commended the apprentices for learning at such a young age to value work-related skills like timeliness, teamwork, and to understand manufacturing processes.

Dr. Kenneth Scott, Rockingham County Schools Career and Technical Education director, invited representatives from each company to the stage to accept awards for being involved in RockATOP.

Jennifer Lester, RCC CTE director and apprenticeship coordinator extended gratitude for everyone’s support of the program.

“For many, this signing ceremony is a celebration of choice, both on behalf of the student who is making an amazing choice to really expand your future, both with on-the-job training by wonderful mentors, and with academic training by highly talented faculty – all with zero debt, and nationally recognized credentials,” she said. “But also, on behalf of our partner companies, who are making a choice to build up their workforce in a manner that also builds up our young people and our community, we thank you for your investment in our future.”

Lester and RockATOP Chair Nancy Tulloch-Moore of Pine Hall Brick, surprised Lydia Craddock, RCS career counselor with an award for her extensive involvement in RockATOP.

Among comments offered by apprentices via a slide show, Colby Harris said he was most excited about running machines at MSI; Braxton French thought it was cool to learn about how Pine Hall Brick fires its bricks in kilns; Destiny Bowman said she chose Ruger because she loves hands-on work, and she was able to work with someone on a machine on her second day; and John Bray said he didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school, but after working at Bridgestone Aircraft, he looks forward to becoming an engineer.

Among comments made by company representatives about their apprentices, Bridgestone Aircraft Tire CEO Andrea Schmitz Davis said Ian Bartlett is intelligent, ambitious, is able to grasp concepts quickly, and suggested ways to improve some processes – and she and her employees are excited to have him as a teammate. She said John Bray is hardworking, very reliable.

“He would show up every day early, excited to work… he is quick learning and has a high level of understanding, and was able to operate independently after a short demonstration,” she said. “He’s been very friendly and outgoing. So John, just like you texted your mom on day 1, ‘I love this place,’ the feeling’s mutual. We love you too.”