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Crown partnering in pre-apprenticeship initiative

Man wearing glasses stand and talks to young male students and their parents who are seated at a table in a meeting room.

Crown Equipment Corp.’s Kinston plant and Lenoir County Public Schools are teaming up on a pre-apprenticeship program designed to provide a pathway to additional career opportunities for LCPS graduates, particularly those wanting to go directly into the workforce.

The program rolled out quietly earlier this month when the Crown pre-apprenticeship team met with high school seniors and parents, took them on a tour of the plant and explained the program – the first of its kind in Lenoir County. If plans hold, finalists will be named next month and three of those interested students will start work as pre-apprentices in January,

If expectations are fully realized, those three – having gained experience on the plant floor at Crown and education in a specially tailored curriculum at Lenoir Community College – will be the first to flow through a pipeline of new, highly qualified workers for the Kinston plant.

But growing workers is almost an ancillary goal of the program, according to Rose Mary Jones, human resources manager at Crown Kinston. “We’re passionate about our community and about growing Kinston,” Jones said. “We want to capture the interest of high school students and be able to offer them employment so that they will remain local. That way we can grow our community. We’re creating a pipeline of workers but really we’re creating opportunity.”

As a pre-apprentice, a student will work three or four hours a day, be paid a wage considerably above minimum, continue high school classes and move into coursework at LCC through LCPS’s Career and College Promise program. As a necessary partner in any pre-apprentice or apprenticeship program, the community college will design a course of study fitted to the job at Crown, whether it’s welding or industrial maintenance or fabrication.

The education is free and the pre-apprentices will earn class credits for working at Crown. If they advance into an apprentice program after high school graduation, they can continue their education at LCC without cost.

“They can be a full-time worker but can have reduced hours to accommodate their class schedule. It really is a great benefit to somebody who wants to get more education but needs to work while they’re doing it,” said Amy Jones, the school district’s director of high school education and CTE.

“There are lots of entry points for lots of different kids,” she said. “If a student wants to do a two-year certificate or continuing education certificate, have a really good job and career opportunity at Crown, they can do that. If they want to do two years’ worth of classwork and then go to a four-year school and then come back and be an engineer, there’s an opportunity for them to do that.”

Crown Equipment Corp. is the fourth largest electric lift truck company in the world with nearly 17,000 employees, 19 manufacturing facilities and sales and service centers worldwide. Crown Kinston, established in 1987, manufactures eight unique industrial electric lift trucks and employs 375 workers.

The Crown-LCPS partnership grew out of a Lenoir County Manufacturers Association meeting where Amy Jones and Jessica Shimer, the district’s career development coordinator, provided information about CTE, or Career and Technical Education. Jones asked for volunteers from the association’s members to serve on LCPS’s Business Advisory Council. Crown raised its hand.

“Through those council meetings, and the people from Crown touring the schools, meeting the principals, and meeting the students, this innovation was born,” Jones said.

Over several months, the school district’s CTE leaders worked out the partnership with Crown Kinston’s team – Todd Frideger, plant manager; Rose Mary Jones, human resources manager; Bill Edmundson, manufacturing training administrator; Ricky Jones, senior advanced manufacturing engineer; and Daniel Smith, maintenance supervisor.

Crown Kinston had a template to guide its planning – a similar program operates successfully at the Crown plant in Newcastle, Ind., and the local plant has employed students as summer help for years – but the local manufacturer wanted to develop a pre-apprenticeship model that suits Lenoir County and LCPS. “This is a pilot program for us,” Rose Mary Jones, the HR manager, said. “We will start small, understand the program and its expectations ourselves and see how we need to change and modify. Then we hope to grow from there.”

This first group of applicants was limited to seniors from the three traditional high schools – Kinston, North Lenoir and South Lenoir. When the application process for the 2020-2021 school year opens next February or March, both rising juniors and rising seniors will be considered for pre-apprenticeship employment the following fall.

School counselors help identify students who would be a good fit for the program, sometimes looking beyond the academic record. “There are some great opportunities for kids at any level, as long as they have strong attendance, a good work ethic and are willing to use their employability skills,” Amy Jones said.

“When we talked about it with Crown and LCC, we talked a lot about that kid who doesn’t have the opportunity to do Career and College Promise because their GPA is not quite high enough but has a strong work ethic, is a really great kid, has strong attendance and is just willing. We just need kids who are willing to work,” she said.

The Crown partnership is LCPS’s latest, most fully developed effort to provide a career plan for students who graduate from high school with the need or desire to go to work, an effort that has the potential to answer manufacturers’ demand for skilled workers here.

A paid internship program launched by Spirit AeroSystems, which manufacturers composite parts for jetliners in the Global TransPark, has given summer work to eight to 10 graduating seniors from Kinston High School and is scheduled to expand next summer, employing more and younger students.

Pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships and internships are the bow on a package of opportunities provided through CTE’s Career Development and Work-Based Learning Continuum to students sorting out career interests and charting a direction for their adult lives.

Career awareness programs like career fairs and Students@Work field trips for students in elementary and middle schools set the stage for career exploration through field trips to business and industry locations and monthly job shadowing opportunities for older students. Career Preparation, the final leg of the continuum, leverages the expertise and community spirit of manufacturers like Crown, according to Jones.

“The people at Crown have been wonderful. They have been phenomenal,” the CTE director said. “Kudos to Todd Frideger and the management team for having this vision.”

Photo caption:

Todd Frideger, plant manager for Crown Equipment Corp. in Kinston, talks with some of the high school seniors and parents who turned out for an Oct. 15 meeting about a new pre-apprenticeship program Crown is initiating with Lenoir County Public Schools. In the background is Ricky Jones, senior advanced manufacturing engineer at Crown Kinston.