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Why 20 apprentice opportunities will be launched through $300,000 grant
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Audrey Villarreal lights a torch Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, during the Northeast Georgia Workforce Development Alliance Skills Challenge at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. - photo by Scott Rogers

Apprenticeship 101, a new initiative developed by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Development Task Force and Lanier Technical College, is leading the charge in reducing the skills gap in Hall County. 

The Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority accepted a $300,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to offer paid apprenticeships to 20 people for two years. 

Shelley Davis, the chamber’s former vice president of existing industry, said the grant will provide up to $15,000 for a company to invest in an apprentice. 

So far, she said the initiative has four apprentices. 

Barbe America, Georgia Poultry Lab Network, M&M Welding & Fabrication, Mencom, Murray Plastics and Prince Industries are participating in the program. 

Davis said each apprentice is employed full-time with on-the-job training and must attend a Lanier Tech class one night a week. 

Workforce Strategies Group LLC plans to spearhead the initiative and collaborate with students, educational professionals, communities and employers. The company, which facilitates work-based learning and apprenticeships in the manufacturing industry in Northeast Georgia, was formed by Davis and Greg Vitek, former president of IMS Gear Georgia.

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The Appalachian Regional Commission presented a $300,000 check to the Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority on Dec. 19, which will fund an apprenticeship program. (Courtesy Hall Chamber of Commerce)

Before starting Apprenticeship 101, Davis said the chamber surveyed companies and found areas where apprentices were most needed: machining and industrial maintenance.

“There are so many people that long to have a path set before them that teaches them new skills,” Davis said. “If you have the aptitude to work like that and you’re offered the opportunity to be an apprentice in a company and be paid while trained, that’s a phenomenal opportunity.”

The program intends to make apprenticeship offerings the standard in local manufacturing companies.

When the initiative started at the beginning of the year, Davis said 100% of the companies chose to apprentice current employees, so they could increase that person’s skill level.

“But now, in addition to that, they’re looking at hiring work-based learning high school students and have them work six months to a year,” she said. “If they go through all of that, they plan to give the high schooler the ability to become an apprentice.”

Davis said Apprenticeship 101 has the potential to change Hall’s economy for the better. 

“Every dollar that’s invested into skills for a person in Hall County has a ripple effect because it continues to turn over dollars,” she said. “For an individual whose income is increasing significantly over a short period of time, families do better and they spend more on the economy … If a company has increased skill level in employees, they can continue to invest in more employees and equipment. All of that continues to happen because the ripple effect is good.”

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