PCC Advances to Final Round of National Pre-Apprenticeship Competition

Prior to the pandemic, Calvin Mayo, coordinator of PCC's Computer Integrated Machining curriculum, welcomed VISONS high school students to campus each summer for tours of his program. Should Pitt win a U.S. Department of Education competition this summer, CIM would benefit greatly from a pre-apprenticeship program specifically focused on machining.

WINTERVILLE—The U.S. Department of Education announced this month that Pitt Community College has been selected as a finalist in its Rethink Adult Ed Challenge, a national competition to advance pre-apprenticeships for adult learners.

In a Jan. 13 announcement, the department said a panel of adult education, workforce policy and social services experts selected PCC to join 94 other programs from 32 states in the final round of the $750,000-Challenge. A winner of the contest’s $250,000-grand prize will be announced this summer, along with as many as five runners up that will receive at least $100,000 apiece.

“I was very excited to learn that we were chosen as a finalist, especially considering that only 95 programs in the country were selected,” PCC Transitional Studies Director Laurie Weston said. “I think it is a true reflection on the quality program that our teachers and staff at PCC have developed over the years, particularly in the area of college and career readiness.”

Weston, who is spearheading Pitt’s contest participation, said pre-apprenticeship programs are specifically designed to provide students with the foundation and skills needed to become apprentices. The programs, she said, play an important role in helping students select pathways that lead to gainful employment.

“Pre-apprenticeships give students a chance to explore and learn more about particular career fields—the kind of jobs available, what they pay, and the skills needed for success,” Weston said. “They also provide students with support and resources to pursue employment and further their training, once they have chosen a particular path.”

Weston said the preliminary pre-apprenticeship program that PCC created for the competition aims to help low-literacy adults gain skills and workforce credentials that lead to wage-sustaining employment in the field of Computer Integrated Machining (CIM).

“We purposely chose Computer Integrated Machining in order to focus on one career pathway in Pitt County that is in high demand but currently has low enrollment for training and credentialing,” she said. “And since PCC already has a certified apprenticeship program geared toward advanced manufacturing jobs, our grant team felt the CIM program would be a good start.”

Pitt’s program design, according to Weston, includes academics in the context of machining, employability skills, project-based/experiential learning, and concurrent enrollment in machining courses. She added that on-site job shadowing, mentoring and advising by instructional staff are also built-in, as are industry tours and demonstrations.

Between February and June, PCC will work on fine-tuning its proposed program as part of Stage 2 of the Rethink Challenge. Weston says the college will have access to resources, training, interaction and collaboration to further develop the project during this phase.

“This is an opportunity for us to enhance our Transitional Studies program, increase enrollment, and develop more innovative approaches that help students improve literacy and transition into PCC curricula that lead to good jobs,” Weston said. “Even if we don’t win, we will have had a great opportunity to learn from the best, participate in intensive training, and develop an effective and viable pre-apprenticeship program for adult literacy students wanting to pursue CIM careers. We will also have a model to use for other career pathways in the future.”

Should PCC receive a financial award through the competition, Weston says the money would be used to provide a portion of an apprenticeship specialist’s salary. That individual, she said, would be responsible for developing additional pre-apprenticeships at the college that lead to full apprenticeship opportunities.

Prize funding would also go toward hiring a translator to work with English Language Learners participating in PCC’s pre-apprenticeship program. And it would help pay for National Career Readiness Certificate credentialing for students and professional development for a literacy teacher to gain enough machining knowledge to contextualize the academic portion of the pre-apprenticeship program.