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National Apprenticeship Week – Q&A with Gaston College

Established by the U.S. Department of Labor, National Apprenticeship Week is a nationwide celebration that brings together business leaders, career seekers, labor, apprentices, educational institutions and other critical partners to demonstrate their support for Registered Apprenticeship.

As an industry intermediary for Registered Apprenticeships, Equus Workforce Solutions awarded $400,000 in incentive funding to organizations for the development and expansion of Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Gaston College in North Carolina sponsors the Apprenticeship 321 Program to cultivate highly skilled workers in Advanced Manufacturing, Healthcare and Information Technology. Under this award, Gaston will expand the number of apprentice opportunities for apprentices to begin their careers by earning certifications for the following occupations: Certified Nursing Assistant I, Certified Nursing Assistant II and Paramedic Medicine.

Jill Hendrix, Director of Apprenticeships and Work-Based Learning at Gaston College, and Dona Goforth, Franchise Owner of Home Instead in Gastonia, NC, offering in-home care services for aging adults and their families, shared how apprenticeships are making a positive impact on their organizations and their workforce.

Can you tell us about your Registered Apprenticeship Program and how you started working together?

Jill Hendrix: Gaston College was the first North Carolina community college to hold the apprenticeship standards. We started the program back in 2015, and it’s called Apprenticeship 321 because Gaston College’s Dallas, NC campus is located off Highway 321. We hold the standards for the apprenticeship program, and if we teach it at Gaston College, and we can make a class out of it, then we’re able to add it as an apprenticeable pathway.

Home Instead was one of the first companies that had their own cohorts. Since January 2021, they have had 12 apprentices complete the cohort and four current apprentices. Six apprentices will start in spring 2022. Because of the financial assistance that we use for the education assistance grant and through Equus, it makes it possible for these wonderful smaller companies to participate in apprenticeship.

Dona Goforth: For us, being able to invest in our employees by getting them the additional training they needed was truly an answer to prayer when we were presented with this opportunity to partner with Gaston College through the apprenticeship program. Jill has made the process so easy for us, being that liaison, and our caregivers have just raved about the program and being able to get their Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification. A lot of the people who are in the program, this is their second or third career, and they’re very excited to be able to have access to the training they need. The apprenticeship program has really, truly enhanced their training to be able to provide quality care in the homes for our seniors.

How has your partnership with Equus and the incentive funding helped you expand your Registered Apprenticeship Program?

Jill Hendrix: Not only are we able to use the money from our incentive funding for the CNA I and II apprenticeship occupations, but we’re also using this money to pay for uniforms for CNAs when they’re representing Gaston College while in clinical roles. We work with our county’s major hospitals to the smaller companies that have four people. That’s the beauty of us holding the standards for their apprenticeship program is that it enables us to work with all different types of companies. However, these small to midsize companies, if they have to spend $40 for ten uniforms, that is a huge impact to their budget. For us to be able to provide the money for this cost, that’s a big deal!

We’re also using the incentive funding to pay for tuition, books and fees for our first Information Technology (IT) apprentice. We have a Success Coach who primarily focuses on the Advanced Manufacturing students because they’re in the program for two to four years. The Success Coach is their academic advisor. When we have someone new to the apprenticeship program in the college, the Success Coach meets with them, gets students enrolled, assists them with academic testing and removes any barriers they have in completing their apprenticeship. For example, if there is any issues with the apprentice getting their homework done or working too many hours, then the Success Coach will be the liaison between the mentor, the apprentice and the company. We want these students to succeed because, when they succeed, the company succeeds, and when the company succeeds, the community succeeds. We are so thankful for the Equus grant because it creates more doors that we can open for these companies.

What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in developing or expanding your registered apprenticeship program? How did you overcome these challenges?

Jill Hendrix: It’s really getting people to understand what apprenticeship is, what apprenticeship isn’t and that a company can do an apprenticeship program. Because when you know the impact of training on your workforce, I mean it multiplies itself, time and time again.

Dona Goforth: You cannot go wrong in investing in people and showing people you truly care by doing this. I’m a former educator, 20 years of being a second grade school teacher, and seeing the impact that great education has on someone and their self-esteem. For us, even in this pandemic, being able to keep the doors open, the lights on and to keep people working and having care for our seniors is very important. In spite of the pandemic, we’re able to do this, and we’re still sending students to Gaston College to get their CNAs. You cannot go wrong investing in people!

What advice would you give to an employer considering registered apprenticeship?

Jill Hendrix: Do it! Pick one. Pick two. Start small. If you’re not certain, if you’re unsure or if this is completely uncharted territory for you, pick one or two and see how it goes and it’s all about continuous improvement, right? So the first time you think, “Oh, maybe we should have this person as a mentor instead of this person, or maybe this should be our selection process and maybe this shouldn’t be part of the selection process,” but, just start, because with these education assistance grants that we get, including the Equus grant, there is money out there to help support this! To Dona’s point, if you don’t have the money in your budget, there are other financial opportunities that cover costs.

Dona Goforth: I do think that for us, it didn’t take much to sell us on Registered Apprenticeship. Knowing what I know with education and knowing the workforce that I have here that were hungry, that wanted to know more, they wanted to be the best they possibly could for their clients, and we just did not have that additional training. We have had several employees that are so hungry after going through this apprenticeship, they want more! The fire has caught within them, which excites me so much.

What are some of the key successes you’ve experienced as an organization?

Dona Goforth: Being able to operate during the pandemic. When a lot of small businesses closed their doors, we’ve been able to stay afloat, and again, I think it goes back to when you show people that you care, people will stay. Investing in people’s lives and seeing the growth within, a loyalty comes with that. I would definitely say our partnership with Gaston College and the apprenticeship program and being offered these grants to help offset the cost has been such a blessing in spite of everything that’s going on in this world right now. To get the news today, another student has passed their state boards is just tremendous. This is someone who is 56 years old, and she just finished her schooling recently. Now she’s got her CNA! The sky’s the limit for her.

Jill Hendrix: With a 56-year-old person, that means when they were in school, there were no computers. Computers were not part of her day-to-day life, and then for this person to return to school where computers are a huge part of the learning experience, that just speaks volumes, and the confidence that instills, that’s what it is all about!

We also have the world’s most amazing instructors! We had a summer graduation for the Home Instead folks, and the instructor is a big plant lover. The last night of class, one of the apprentices from Home Instead brought the instructor a piece of clipping from her plant. The instructor was sad that these students were leaving. It just goes to show that we’re so blessed in so many aspects of this apprenticeship program, but a huge portion of this is due to the instructors and we’re very thankful for that.

Thinking back to all the apprentices you have worked with, do any specific apprenticeship success stories come to mind? And if so, can you share one with us?

Dona Goforth: An employee who was a displaced restaurant waitress due to the pandemic came to me and said, “I have no experience whatsoever, but I like people.” I said, “You know what? You already have a leg up because you’re serving people, being a waitress. You’re dealing with lots of diverse groups of people, and you enjoy what you do! We can expand upon that.” A month later is when I had the conversation with Jill about getting involved in the apprenticeship program. This individual was the very first person I thought of. She didn’t have a lot of work experience with us, and we still sent her. She was working 40 hours a week dealing with personal matters too, and she finished the apprenticeship program. Now she wants to continue to get her Registered Nurse (RN), and that just thrills my soul!

Jill Hendrix: We’re working with one of the local hospitals, and the individual that’s over their program selection process came into work one morning, and there was a woman who came up to her and gave her a big hug. She said, “Thank you so much for putting my daughter in the CNA apprenticeship program.” There’s so many levels of wonderfulness to this. We’re so incredibly thankful that Equus provides this option and this opportunity because it is changing lives!

If you’re a workforce stakeholder, employer, training provider or career seeker interested in learning more about Equus’ Discover Apprenticeship Program, please visit

This project has been funded, either wholly or in part, with Federal funds from the Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration under Contract number, 1605C2-20-C-0016, the contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Labor, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement of same by the U.S. Government.