Smithfield Foods, Wayne Community College sign second cohort of apprentices

Smithfield Foods, Wayne Community College sign second cohort of apprentices

Friday, August 28, 2020

GOLDSBORO, NC - Smithfield Foods and Wayne Community College welcomed a second cohort of maintenance apprentices in a signing ceremony recently.

Smithfield launched the maintenance apprenticeship with Wayne Community College last September with 11 apprentices. The new cohort adds 14 apprentices, a mix of current Smithfield employees and some hired specifically to join the apprenticeship program.

The apprenticeship program is designed to develop the next generation of experienced professionals for skilled trades at Smithfield Foods. “This is the future of what we’re doing,” said Joel Miller, Smithfield senior director of engineering. “We look at the classes we are starting now to replace the Baby Boomers that are going to be leaving five to 10 years from now.”

The program provides hands-on engineering and mechanic training while the apprentices are working toward Associate in Applied Science in Industrial Systems Technology degrees at WCC and journeyworker’s certificates. Participants receive free college tuition in addition to salary and benefits as they progress through the program.

The members of the new cohort were chosen from more than 100 applicants, said Clarence Scott, Smithfield’s talent acquisition specialist for maintenance and engineering. They will train alongside experienced technicians at Smithfield’s facilities in Clinton, Kinston, Tar Heel, and Smithfield, Va., and study at WCC. They should graduate in 2023.

Craig Foucht, executive director of Wayne Business and Industry Center at Wayne Community College, talked about the advantages of apprenticeships for businesses and students. The program puts Smithfield ahead of the hiring process. Typically, employers call around graduation and ask about graduates, Foucht said. “Instead, Smithfield Foods chose to get involved before the first day of class.

“Programs like these take classroom theory and on-the-job experiences and when they really matter most, when you’re learning it in the classroom, you can get out there and apply it on the factory floor or the company floor,” Foucht said.

The new apprentices are working and training at four facilities:

  • Clinton plant: Noah Durham of Godwin and Enrique Mendoza of Magnolia;
  • Kinston plant: Devin McEntire of Vanceboro;
  • Tar Heel distribution center: Quinn Burrus and Cristobal Resto of Fayetteville, Brandon Jacobs of Lumberton, Tyler Schantz of Saint Pauls and Kristen Snead of Dillon, S.C.;
  • North plant (Smithfield, Virginia): Bartolo Concepcion of Saint Pauls, Calvin Coleman of Suffolk, Va., Randolph Gholston III of Hampton, Va., and Blake Hopkins and Te'Shawn Savage of Newport News, Va.

New apprentice McEntire said he is appreciative for the opportunity the program is giving him. When COVID-19 hit, he was laid off from his job as the wellness coordinator for the Shelby YMCA. During five months of unemployment, he applied for 50 jobs but didn’t get a bite. His bachelor’s degree in kinesthetics and exercise science is “not useful during a pandemic,” he said. “I needed to find something else,” McEntire said. “I want to provide for my family.”

Of his new apprenticeship situation that gives him a job and a chance to learn new skills, McEntire said, “I love it.”

Amador had already been working at the Clinton plant for almost a year and a half when he learned about the program. “I wanted to move up,” he said. “I want to keep improving. I don’t want to be stuck in one place.”

ApprenticeshipNC Director Kathryn Castelloes told the new apprentices that employers consider registered apprenticeships to be “the gold standard of training.” “It combines the benefits of both on-the-job learning with classroom instructions. Companies need apprenticeships. Companies want apprenticeships.”

ApprenticeshipNC, which is part of the North Carolina Community College System, works with businesses, industry groups and other organizations to establish registered apprenticeships in North Carolina.

Smithfield is in the process of expanding the apprenticeship initiative nationwide by partnering with colleges near Smithfield facilities. Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Neb., became the second site in March. It serves maintenance technicians at Smithfield facilities in Iowa and Nebraska.

Several other companies have sponsored apprenticeships with WCC, including Mt. Olive Pickle Co., Franklin Baking Co., SPX Transformer Solutions, Team Chevrolet of Goldsboro, Hubert Vester Chevrolet of Wilson, and Linamar Forgings Carolina.

Smithfield has the largest number of apprentices studying at the college at one time.


Smithfield apprentices

Ten of the new apprentices in Smithfield Foods' maintenance apprenticeship pose for a photo after signing their agreements. They will train at Smithfield facilities while studying at Wayne Community College.