Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Letting go of fear: Cleveland Community College’s apprenticeship program helps students accomplish life goals

Share this story

  • Shane Rogers always liked maintenance work. When the opportunity to apply for a job opened, he had to overcome his fears of returning to school. Rogers shares his story of letting go of fear and completing the apprenticeship program @ClevelandCC.
  • Maddox Brown's passion for HVAC grew from taking classes through Career and College Promise. Brown, a recent high school graduate, is now an apprentice at a local heating and air company and part of the apprenticeship program @ClevelandCC.
Voiced by Amazon Polly

What has held you back from chasing all the things you imagined for yourself? For Shane Rogers, the answer was fear. 

Rogers is a soon-to-be graduate of Cleveland Community College (CCC), where he’s spent the last three years in the apprenticeship program. His apprenticeship journey started with his employer, Eaton Corporation, an intelligent power management company. Rogers had been with the company for almost nine years when he saw a job posting for a maintenance technician. But applying meant the father of four would need to return to school for additional training, something that Rogers said caused a great deal of fear.

“I really like maintenance work. I’ve always worked with my hands,” Rogers said. “And that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. My biggest thing was, I was just scared of going back to school.”

Rogers went straight to work after graduating high school and said he hadn’t enrolled in college because he was scared to start something different.

“I’ve always wanted things in life but I was scared to, you know, commit to something like that,” Rogers said. 

But with the opportunity to advance in his career, Rogers decided to take a leap and start the years-long apprenticeship program – receiving support and encouragement from his wife along the way.

Increased wages and skill sets

Rogers is one of 22 apprentices in the college’s program who work in various industries like maintenance, electrical lineworker, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC. The employers within those industries partner directly with the college to build the apprenticeship training program. The program is a college-sponsored apprenticeship program, rather than employer-sponsored, which means Cleveland Community College handles a majority of the administrative details.

Eaton Corporation requires apprentices to complete 4,000 hours of training and coursework. Once students finish, they earn a host of credentials, including an applied associate in science degree, five different certificates, an automation engineering technology diploma, and a U.S. Department of Labor certification of apprenticeship – journeyworker. Plus, their salaries increase with each year of completion.

Cleveland Community College apprentice Shane Rogers. Courtesy of Cleveland Community College

Tuition and fees for most apprentices are covered by the employer or other grants and scholarships – something Maddox Brown said is a bonus. 

Brown is a first-year apprentice and recent high school graduate. When Brown was in high school, he started taking classes in air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration through Career and College Promise (CCP), a dual enrollment program that allows eligible high school students opportunities to complete college courses tuition-free.

Brown said it was those dual enrollment classes that helped him find a purpose and decide to make a career out of it. He received pushback from some because he was choosing to pursue a trade and technical degree instead of attending a four-year college, he said, with people citing his good grades as a reason to attend a university. 

“But I didn’t really want to do four-year. That was never truly my goal or plan,” he said. 

Brown connected with Josh Harrison, the general manager for Shelby Heating and Air, to discuss career opportunities. From their conversations, the company decided to bring Brown on board, hiring him as an apprentice. The experience has been a positive one so far for Brown, he said.

Cleveland Community College apprentice Maddox Brown. Courtesy of Cleveland Community College

Apprenticeship benefits

Harrison said the apprenticeship program has multiple benefits for employers. When the company signed Brown as an apprentice he was still in high school. Doing so qualified Brown as a Youth Apprentice making him eligible for a tuition waiver, said Sharon Nivens, Cleveland Community College’s work-based learning coordinator. Brown and Shelby Heating and Air were also eligible for an expansion grant through the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) that covers college fees and books, reimburses the company up to $2,000 in onboarding expenses, and provides 50% wage reimbursement for the first 2000 h0urs worked Nivens continued. The grant is specifically for companies that are located in tier one and tier two economically distressed counties, employ less than 500 employees, and hire an apprentice between the ages of 16 and 25.

“I feel like as an employer, that’s one of the biggest things that we struggled with – finding people that are motivated to actually do the work,” Harrison said. 

The partnership with the college has been an asset, he said. 

“You’ve got the people at the school that’s also pushing him (Brown) to do good in school and getting him signed up for his classes,” Harrison said. “Having that relationship with CCC, that’s a huge positive for us.”

Josh Harrison (left) and Maddox Brown. Emily Thomas/EducationNC

Brown and Rogers said their time in the apprenticeship program has already paid dividends. 

Brown said he wakes up every day excited to go to work.

“It’s not the same thing every day because you’re in a new house, new crawlspace, new attic. Like it’s always a different problem at every place,” Brown said. “And it’s the same concept but different layout. I just enjoy that thought process that goes into everything.”

Rogers said one of the biggest takeaways from the apprenticeship was learning how to troubleshoot.

“My biggest struggle was troubleshooting, and I told my instructors that from the beginning,” Rogers said. “I can do anything. You give me a schematic, I can wire anything – I can do whatever you want. But when it comes to troubleshooting, knowing why this button isn’t working, that was my biggest problem.”

His instructors helped him through that and now Rogers said he doesn’t need to ask for help on the job. He knows where to start to uncover the problem, and he learned those skills from the college.

And perhaps his biggest takeaway has been realizing that he can succeed in college and overcoming the fear of starting something new.

Planning for the future

Cleveland’s dean of workforce development, Amy Dulin, said the college would like to expand its apprenticeship employer partnerships. They have nine active employer partners right now but are looking to grow, particularly in the health care field. 

According to a recent economic impact study, the average number of jobs in nursing is expected to grow 1.1%. Nurses who graduate from Cleveland Community College generated roughly $3.6 million in added income to the college’s service area economy in 2019-20.

Dulin said beyond health care, the college would like to increase apprenticeship opportunities in construction trades and IT. 

As for Brown and Rogers, they both have future plans in mind. 

Brown can graduate in three years with a number of credentials including an Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Technology diploma and certificate, HVAC/R Automation Controls certificate, and a U.S. Department of Labor certification of apprenticeship – journeyworker.

Harrison said those credentials put him about 50% closer towards his construction license, which is something Brown would eventually like to pursue. And if Brown hits all his goals during the apprenticeship program, Harrison said he could have an annual salary between $60,000 to $80,000 in as little as four years. 

Rogers will graduate in Dec. 2022 having earned multiple credentials. Some of the classes Rogers completed can easily transfer to other programs, like electrical engineering or HVAC, if he chooses that route. But first, Rogers, said it’s his turn to be at home more.

Completing the program was an example to Rogers’ family, showing that they can pursue their goals without fear. Rogers said his wife plans to return to school and pursue her dreams of becoming a dental hygienist.

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a policy analyst for EducationNC.