GC Apprenticeship helps graduate succeed

Program provides new grad with a job and debt-free education.

Ernest Meeks had been working as a Puller Locator at HanesBrands, Inc., in Kings Mountain, N.C., since February 2016. About three years ago, he decided he needed to go back to school to learn machining technology. A bulletin posted at work invited employees to submit an essay in order to be considered for an apprenticeship program that would enable the chosen apprentice to work while getting a cost-free education.

To Meeks, the program seemed to be a pathway to career advancement and an opportunity to increase his salary. He wrote his essay and turned it in the next day. A few months later, he learned he had been selected to join the Gaston College Apprenticeship 321 program.

In 2019, he began the apprenticeship and his classes, majoring in Industrial Systems Technology. “When I first started my classes,” said Meeks, “I was nervous—especially when I saw that most of my classmates were younger than my kids. I could tell that I’d been out of school for a while since the others were answering questions much faster than I could. But after a couple of days, it got better and I was able to get the answers and follow along with everyone else.”

He was determined to get good grades, no matter how difficult the courses were. As the only representative of Hanes in the apprenticeship program, he felt an obligation to do well. His hard work has paid off. Meeks will graduate from Gaston College with an Industrial Maintenance Mechanic diploma on May 13, 2022.

He is now a Maintenance Mechanic at Hanes and will continue in that role with an eye on advancing in the future. Joel Rohrer, Maintenance Supervisor at Hanes and Meeks’ mentor, said, “I am very thankful that Ernest was able to take advantage of the apprenticeship program. This partnership, with grant money paying for his cost of schooling and our company paying Ernest while attending, made it possible for Ernest to advance and excel. Without Apprenticeship 321 this would not have happened.

“Ernest has been able to take on more and more responsibility inside of our department,” Rohrer continued, “and it has been very satisfying to observe the growth and personal ownership that Ernest has developed.”

Working and going to school was a challenge to Meeks, but he was determined not to give up. “I would not let my kids see me fail,” he said, “and I was not going to let my work family see me give up.” The apprenticeship program was a highly positive experience for him, and he is especially grateful for the support and encouragement he received from his instructors here at the College.

Having been a non-traditional student, Meeks has some advice for those considering attending college. “I encourage you to do so no matter if you’re just getting out of high school or you have been out of high school for 20 years. It is never too early or too late to get an education. You may have obstacles in your way, but you can overcome them to reach your goal in life.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email