321 Apprentice nominated as Outstanding Registered Apprentice in N.C.
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321 Apprentice Nominated as Outstanding Registered Apprentice in N.C.

Participant in Gaston College Apprenticeship 321 program nominated as Outstanding Registered Apprentice in N.C.

Michael Philbeck, a participant in the Gaston College Apprenticeship 321 program and an employee Apprenticship 321 logoof Firestone Fibers and Textiles in Kings Mountain, has been nominated as North Carolina’s Outstanding Registered Apprentice. Nominees are selected by the NCWorks Apprenticeship Office, which is part of the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Philbeck is the first nominee from Gaston College.

The Gaston College Apprenticeship team submitted Philbeck as a candidate for the award based on criteria outlined by the NCWorks Commission, commending him for performing at exceptional levels, being dependable and a team player, receiving grades at an above average level, having a good attendance record, and for his strong record in related instruction study and transferring classroom activities to on-the-job performance.

Michael Philbeck

Apprentice Michael Philbeck learns mechanic skills through hands-on training at Firestone. When he has completed his apprenticeship next year, he will be awarded a Mechanic A position, with the possibility of becoming an Electro-Mechanical Technician.

Philbeck has worked at Firestone Fibers and Textiles for 19 years, working in a variety of positions,

from forklift operator to chemical technician. Most of his time with Firestone has been with the maintenance department. He joined the apprenticeship program in 2015. When he has completed his apprenticeship next year, he will be awarded a Mechanic A position, with the possibility of becoming an Electro-Mechanical Technician.


Gary Cox, maintenance supervisor at Firestone, has supervised Philbeck in his positions as an Industrial Loom Technician and Lead Loom Technician. He is now Philbeck’s mentor in the apprenticeship program. “I feel that the apprenticeship program has been a great way to develop talent within the organization and allows

Michael pictured with mentors

Gary Cox, maintenance supervisor at Firestone, Michael Philbeck and Toni Belhu, Human Resources Supervisor. Both Mr. Cox and Ms. Belhu are both Michael’s mentors.

our team members, like Michael, the chance to grow within the company,” said Cox. “Joining the program will help us here at Firestone ensure that we stay competitive through the continued training and development of our team members.”

The apprenticeship program has been extremely positive for Philbeck. After high school, he served in the U.S. Army and then got married. He and his wife are the parents of five children, ranging from 19 months to 15 years of age. Along the way, Philbeck had considered going back to school, but raising his family and working to support them took precedence. When he learned about the Apprenticeship 321 program through work, he seized the opportunity. “The apprenticeship has been such a blessing,” he said. “I had wanted to go back to school for so long but it just never seemed to work out. With the program and my company supporting it, it has been a dream come true. It has definitely not been easy, juggling work, school, and a full family life, but it’s just like everything else. You get out of it what you put in. I am learning so much.”

Philbeck completed his first year in the apprenticeship program with a 4.0 GPA, and has been an enthusiastic participant and a leader for other students in the program. Kathy Livsie, Instructor of Mechanical Engineering Technology and advisor to the Gaston College apprenticeship program, is impressed with Philbeck’s dedication to his studies. “He is an excellent student and never wants less than an ‘A’ but he is always willing to help his fellow apprentices as well,” said Livsie. “This summer he found an engineer he knew to help with a study group for the physics class he was taking. Michael is attentive and asks questions in class, and if he has some direct experience to share about the class topic, he contributes to the class that way as well.” Philbeck has tutored other students in the program and has volunteered to represent the program and the classes at job fairs presented by Gaston College.

Next semester, Philbeck is taking a class in manufacturing quality control from Livsie. It is an online class and he is already communicating with her so he can get an early start. “He always tries to be proactive and thoroughly prepared for everything,” said Livsie. “I would love to have a class where all my students were like Michael.” Upon completion of his studies at Gaston College in 2019, he will have earned his journeyman’s certificate and college credits toward an associate’s degree in Manufacturing Technology.

Outside of school and his job at Firestone, Philbeck is the financial secretary for his Local Union and is very active in his community. He runs Upwards, a basketball and cheerleading program at First Baptist Church of Cherryville, and he co-founded and runs the Cherryville Relay for Life. He is a DJ for weddings and parties and for intermediate and middle school dances in Cherryville, and he has coached his children’s soccer, baseball, wrestling, and cheerleading teams.

The nomination as Outstanding Registered Apprentice came as a surprise to Philbeck. “I didn’t know what the award was at first,” he said. “I started thinking about other people that deserved the nomination as well because we work as a team, but my teachers, success coach, mentor, and my wife pointed out why they thought I had earned the nomination. I am humble and proud to accept their votes of confidence. It is an honor to be recognized for just being me.”

The winner of the Outstanding Registered Apprentice Award, chosen from among several nominees, will be announced on Tuesday, October 4, at the N.C. Apprenticeship Conference to be held in Greensboro on October 4 and 5. Also announced will be the winner of the Outstanding Registered Pre-Apprentice Award and awards to companies for the Outstanding Registered Apprenticeship Program, Outstanding Registered Pre-Apprenticeship Program, Innovative Registered Partnership, and Special Recognition of a Registered Apprenticeship Program. N.C. Secretary of Commerce John E. Skvarla will present each of the winners with a trophy and a letter of congratulations signed by Skvarla.

The Gaston College Apprenticeship 321 program is proving to be beneficial to participants and their employers. “To use the old cliché,” Philbeck said, “it is a win-win for both me and Firestone. I get a cost-free education and new job skills, and Firestone gets a more educated and experienced worker.”

Gaston College is the first college within North Carolina to be registered with the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s NCWorks Apprenticeship Office as sponsor of an apprenticeship program.

Participants in the Apprenticeship 321 program receive job-specific training and a cost-free education from Gaston College while earning a salary from local employers. For more information about the Apprenticeship 321 program, visit https://www.gaston.edu/economic-workforce-development/services-business-industry/apprenticeship-321/ or contact Carol Faust, Continuing Education Program Specialist, at 704-922-6521 or faust.carol@gaston.edu.

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