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6 RockATOP apprentices sign on

Sep 3, 2021
RockATOP apprentices
Signing on as new RockATOP apprentices are (front row from left) Tristan Hollifield, Isabella Leonzie, Wyatt Chaney (and not pictured, Patrick Clay), with Machine Specialties Inc., and (back row from left), Gaved Foster and Trey Barker, with ABCO Automation.

Six participants in the Rockingham Apprenticeship and Technical Opportunities Partnership (RockATOP) program signed on with local companies as full apprentices last month.

ABCO Automation signed Dalton McMichael graduate Trey Barker and Rockingham County High School senior Gaved Foster.

Machine Specialties Inc. (MSI) took on RCHS graduate Wyatt Chaney, RCHS senior Patrick Clay, DMHS graduate Tristan Hollifield, and DMHS senior Isabella Leonzio.

In February 2021, RockATOP business and industry leaders invited high school students to show off their skills and determination. Students were chosen as summer pre-apprentices, after which these six officially signed on to continue with full apprenticeships.

Apprentices sign RockATOP agreements.
Seated, Trey Barker and Gaved Foster sign RockaATOP agreements to apprentice at ABCO Automotive.
Apprentices sign RockATOP agreements.
Seated, Wyatt Chaney, Isabella Leonzio, and Tristan Hollifield sign agreements to be RockATOP apprentices at Machine Specialties Inc.

RockATOP enables the 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. The apprentices will graduate tuition-free from Rockingham Community College with an Applied Science degree, already with certifications and credentials in hand.

The RockATOP apprenticeship program is available to all eligible junior and senior high school students in Rockingham County. It matches local students to local opportunities for technical education, career employment, and personal growth while serving the changing workforce needs of local employers.

During an official signing ceremony, Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell wished the group the very best.

“The pride that I have in you, I see it in the family and friends that came here,” he said.

“Parents know this is a guaranteed job, so you won’t be hanging out in their garage when you’re 35,” he said with a laugh. “And you can buy a house in your early 20s. This is truly a mature decision, and it’s a wonderful journey you’ve made.”

Nancy Tulloch-Moore of Pine Hall Brick has served as chair of the RockATOP Consortium since its inception, although she’s now handing the torch over to Tammy Simmons. Tulloch-Moore pointed out that RockATOP “has 29 current apprentices, and they are on their way to successful careers.”

Companies that have apprentices right now are ABCO Automation, Amcor Specialty Packaging, Bridgestone Aircraft Tire, Machine Specialties Inc., Pine Hall Brick, and Rockingham County Schools. Other partner companies include Culp Home Fashions, Dorada Foods, Henniges Automotive, and Smith Carolina. All of these partner companies provide employment, competitive wages, on-the-job training, mentors, books, fees, and equipment for the apprentices.

“The dedication of these companies is unbelievable,” Tulloch-Moore said. “The investment and countless hours, the monthly and quarterly meetings, recruitment trips, 60+ hours interviewing and recruiting apprentices. There is tremendous time and energy spent selecting our RockATOP stars. They are teaching about electronics, machining, maintenance, programmable logic controllers, robots, finance … these are tremendous skills that are in high demand.“

Rockingham County Commissioner Mark Richardson, who also serves as chair of a regional workforce development organization at the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, told the apprentices that the county needs them.

“Our county has been very successful, particularly in the last two years, bringing jobs – maybe too successful. Right now, there are over 1,000 jobs available. We need folks like you to fill those jobs, to support the society, to be the next supporter of the community college, of our secondary schools, of your communities, of your families,” he said.

“I don’t know if you realize what a huge step you’ve made tonight. You’ve put yourself in the elite. We need you to build things, to make important things happen,” Richardson continued. “I applaud you more than you know, because it’s folks like you that bring industry.”

Dr. Ken Scott, who has been integral in the implementation of the RockATOP program, has been director of Career and Technical Education with Rockingham County Schools. 

Dr. Kenny Scott
Dr. Kenneth Scott of Rockingham County Schools delivers the keynote speech during the RockATOP signing ceremony on Aug. 11, 2021.

“RockATOP bridges the gap between the aspirations of a lot of our young people and what the business community desperately needs,” he said.

Scott stressed the “O” in RockATOP: “There’s nothing more fulfilling than taking advantage of an opportunity. But opportunity is sneaky, crafty, elusive, and often comes in a very clever disguise, and is often disguised as hard work. When you go to your companies, if there is an opportunity to give just a little bit more, to work just a little bit harder, to step out a little bit more from the crowd, then please take it. Don’t worry about the person next to you.”

RockATOP company representatives were on hand to talk about their apprentices and to partake in the signing ceremony with them.

Foster has done a great job at ABCO, and has wanted to be an architect since he was a child – so now he’s learning the back side of architecture, including blueprints and making parts. Barker works in ABCO’s build-to-print division, starting with drawings and then building and installing multiple pieces on machines for a large project for the company’s top customer. 

For Foster, the best thing about the apprenticeship is that he’s starting to be able to work alone; for Barker, it’s everything he’s learning.

At Machine Specialties Inc., Chaney is learning everything possible, and Hollifield is “finding a new family” there.

“The people are super nice, super understanding, willing to teach, and don’t get upset when you don’t get something right on the first try,” Leonzio said.

Clay’s favorite part about RockATOP “is the chance to learn and use the opportunity to see what’s going on in industry and manufacturing. The program and companies overall are looking out for us.”

Patrick Clay works with a machine.
Patrick Clay works with a machine during the RockATOP Invitational in February 2021.
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