“It’s Just as Hard as Any Engineering School”

That’s how one organizer describes what it takes for young people to join a new apprenticeship program that aims to attract only the best and brightest—and provides companies an opportunity to really get to know prospective apprentices before hiring them.

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A prospective apprentice tests his skills at Superior Tooling’s “orientation week,” one of many steps he’ll have to take to be formally accepted into the NCTAP program this fall.

When Robbie Earnhardt started his career, there wasn’t a formal program guiding his training. Rather, he developed expertise in the same way as countless other toolmakers: under the watchful eye of more experienced personnel who took the time out of their day to informally show him the ropes. Whatever they taught him, it paid off—today, he’s president of Superior Tooling, a mold manufacturer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

New hires at Superior, however, will have a far different experience. The shop is among the founding members of the North Carolina Triangle Apprenticeship Program (NCTAP), which is gearing up to accept its first apprentices this fall. For one, it takes a 2.8 GPA to even apply. Courses in physics and foreign language are also highly encouraged. “This is a program for mature, highly motivated young people,” says Kent Misegades, vice chairman of NCTAP. “It’s just as hard to get into as any engineering school.” 

Beyond that, the company will have plenty of time—months, even—to evaluate candidates prior to formally accepting them as apprentices. Work ethic, mechanical aptitude, fit with company culture—all become clearer with time, and if a prospective apprentice doesn’t check out, the company doesn’t have to commit to a substantial investment in their training. 

All this in more is detailed in this May issue article.

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