Success Story: Machine Specialties Inc.

Apprentices Soar at MSI

Seeing the spacecraft launch not only gave me pride in MSI as a company, but also pride in myself. I want to thank MSI because without them I would not have had this opportunity.
The apprenticeship program at MSI currently employs 80 apprentices. In photo (L to R): Jay Simmons, apprenticeship manager for MSI; Tammy Simmons, vice president of Marketing and Culture; Rob Simmons, CEO; Eric Craven, apprentice coordinator.



  • IT
  • Manufacturing

By Dolores Quesenberry
Communications Director, ApprenticeshipNC

Apprentices Soar at MSI

If you had a high school student who came home one day and told you they helped build parts for a rocket and that they were going to Cape Canaveral to watch it launch, you might have trouble believing them at first, but this is exactly what happened to twelve apprentices who work for Machine Specialties Inc. (MSI) in Guilford County.

“It all started as a value-added competition that the president of MSI wanted to hold for the apprentices,” explained Tammy Simmons, vice president of Marketing and Culture at MSI. “We have learned over the years that these apprentices want to know the end use of the products they are making, so we decided to hold a competition with the prize being a trip to Cape Canaveral to watch the SpaceX rocket, that they helped make parts for, launch.”  

For the competition, apprentices were asked to make presentations on ways that the company could improve. The apprentices were told that the top five contestants would be sent to watch the launch on an all-expense paid trip courtesy of MSI. Twelve apprentices built up the nerve to enter the contest. On the day of the event, each apprentice took their turn making their presentations to Rob Simmons, CEO, Tammy Simmons, and other members of the MSI leadership team.  

“At the end of the contest, Rob surprised the apprentices by saying he loved all of their suggestions and couldn't make a decison on just the top five," Simmons recalls in an interview. "Rob told the studenst he was going to implement all of the ideas presented and that they were all going to Cape Canaveral.. Everyone was so excited!”   

This past September, Jay Simmons, apprenticeship manager for MSI and Eric Craven, apprentice coordinator for MSI, rented a van and transported the apprentices to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Jay Simmons said it was a great opportunity for everyone and that when the launch happened, it was a really special moment.

“Seeing the spacecraft launch not only gave me pride in MSI as a company, but also pride in myself,” explained Tramon Kelly, one of the MSI apprentices that got to go on the trip to Cape Canaveral. “I want to thank MSI because without them I would not have had this opportunity.”

MSI currently employs 80 apprentices with a retention rate of 92% after graduation from the program, a program registered and approved by ApprenticeshipNC. Upon entering the facility, you might think for a second that you have entered the halls of a local high school. At nearly every turn, it seems there is a young, bright-eyed apprentice dressed in their known “light blue” attire tackling the task at hand.

As part of the program, all apprentices at MSI must wear the same light blue color while serving as an apprentice. Once they complete the program, they graduate to dark blue attire and no longer must wear the light blue clothes.

“Graduating to the ‘dark blues’ is a big deal for the apprentices,” Jay Simmons explained. “They are presented with their dark blue attire at the graduation ceremonies, and they are so happy to finally be a regular employee at MSI.”

After one visit to MSI, it is clear that its apprenticeship program is a big deal, but in reality, it is a smaller part of a grander plan to build a skilled workforce in Guilford County. As one of four founding members of the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners or GAP, Tammy Simmons has spread her passion for registered apprenticeship programs throughout the region. With the growth of apprenticeship programs, MSI also recruits students from a similar consortium in its neighboring Rockingham County called RockATop.

GAP is a consortium of more than 30 companies in the Guilford County region that have come together to build their own talent pool of skilled workers through registered apprenticeship programs approved by AppreticeshipNC. Through apprenticeship programs, thousands of students have been afforded the opportunity to get a jumpstart on their careers by learning on the job while attending Guilford Technical Community College to earn an associate degree in applied science, tuition free. Simmons and the other founding members of GAP mirrored the program after Apprenticeship 2000, a once successful registered apprenticeship program in the Mecklenburg County area.

 “Everybody wins with this program,” Tammy Simmons said. “At times, it can sound too good to be true.”

The GAP consortium hosts recruiting events throughout the year targeting juniors and seniors from public, private, charter and home-schooled students throughout Guilford County. GAP is hosting its annual community night on Tuesday, Nov. 16, in conjunction with National Apprenticeship Week. The community night, which is similar to a job fair, is open to rising juniors and seniors and their parents and provides an opportunity to learn about all GAP employers and the different job opportunities available. Last year, more than 1,000 students and parents attended the event.

On the day of my visit and tour of MSI, I tagged along with the MSI group to observe a GAP presentation firsthand at Northeast Guilford High School, in McLeansville. The high school is located in a rural part of Guildford County. Other participants at the GAP presentation included a representative from Guilford Technical Community College, a representative from Mercedes, the college career manager for Northeast High School, Lashaunda LaMont, and the principal of Northeast Guilford High School, Noel Keener. About 50 students signed up to attend.

To qualify for the program, students must have a 2.8 GPA and no more than five absences from school. Additionally, a parent or guardian must attend at least one of the GAP presentations with the student.

For some students at Northeast Guilford High School, transportation and equipment costs can be a factor and might deter them from applying, but Tammy Simmons addresses this in the meeting and once again shows her passion for helping these students.   

“If transportation is a problem, don’t let that stop you,” Simmons said. “We will figure out a way to get you to work if I have to pick you up and drive you there myself.”

At the end of the meeting, I had a chance to speak with Principal Keener to ask her why the GAP program is so important to her school.

“This is a Title I school, and our students need and deserve opportunities for careers and educational opportunities to ensure that they make a living wage,” Principal Keener said. “The diversity of apprenticeships and the future careers make this an important program for us. We are especially pleased that our students can participate even if they need support with transportation and equipment needs.”