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Surry-Yadkin Works and Altec Announce $10 Million Golden Leaf Grant and New Apprenticeship Program Designed to Close Labor Gap


Surry-Yadkin Works and Altec are pleased to announce that Surry-Yadkin Works has received a Golden Leaf Grant of $603,230 dedicated to implementing Surry-Yadkin Works FLEET, a program designed to prepare students for high-wage positions in the manufacturing sector.

FLEET stands for Fostering Learning through Education, Employment, and Trades. This initiative is particularly crucial given the escalating demand for skilled workers in manufacturing within Surry and Yadkin Counties.

FLEET will be facilitated through Surry-Yadkin Works, the first community-based internship program of its kind in North Carolina covering a two-county region. This innovative business and education initiative is the collaborative effort of four public school systems in Surry and Yadkin counties including Elkin City Schools, Mount Airy City Schools, Surry County Schools, and Yadkin County Schools, as well as Surry Community College, to create a unique approach to a regional internship program.

Selected students will continue their education while working at Altec’s Mount Airy operations facility to gain real-world manufacturing experience. Altec is a leading equipment and service provider for the electric utility, telecommunications, contractor, lights and signs, and tree care markets.

Ben Griffin, General Manager of Altec’s Mount Airy campus, said, “Altec is excited to partner with Surry-Yadkin Works and be the first to bring this unique program to the state of North Carolina. We have partnered with our local schools for several years by offering student internships and apprenticeships, but now we will have a section of our factory exclusively dedicated to them. Not only will these students stay on track for their high school diploma, but they will also learn valuable trade skills that will help them secure their future in the workplace. This is exactly the type of program that demonstrates Altec’s core values and allows us to be a good corporate citizen by giving back to the community.”

one person speaking at podium with chart
Dr. Travis Reeves of Surry County Schools explains to the crowd how Surry-Yadkin Works FLEET will be laid out at Altec.

Surry and Yadkin counties are currently facing a shortage of residents equipped to fill the growing demand for manufacturing positions. Recent data indicates a 4% increase in this demand from 2017 to 2022, with a projected 7% growth anticipated between 2022 and 2027. Compounding the urgency is the concern about over 2,000 manufacturing positions facing a retirement risk, emphasizing the need to equip local youth with the skills required to meet these impending workforce challenges.

The average individual salary for manufacturing positions in Surry and Yadkin counties stands at $59,575, significantly surpassing the current median household income of $51,114.50 in the region. This underscores the potential for manufacturing careers to provide well-paying opportunities that can uplift the economic landscape of Surry and Yadkin Counties.

According to Lightcase Data from the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, the region is identified as a "hotspot" for manufacturing talent, boasting an impressive 7,122 employees compared to the national average of 3,178 for an area of this size.

In addressing the specific challenges faced by Surry and Yadkin counties, Surry County currently has 16% of its youth ages 16-24 categorized as "Opportunity Youth" not engaged in work or education—1% higher than the state average. Yadkin County, while just under the state average, has 14.6% of youth in the same category. This program aims to bridge the gap for these Opportunity Youth, offering an alternative to traditional school environments and preparing them for well-compensated manufacturing careers.

"Surry-Yadkin Works is beyond excited for the opportunity to identify and support students who may require additional assistance, connecting them with local businesses that offer training and preparation for the workforce. These partnerships are instrumental in not only establishing a valuable pipeline with Altec but also in profoundly impacting the trajectories of students' lives. By introducing them to a range of local business opportunities, we are empowering students to explore and pursue meaningful career paths that align with their interests and skills,” shared Crystal Folger-Hawks, Executive Director for Surry-Yadkin Works.

The program will simultaneously address two major needs in the region—providing an innovative educational pathway for students and creating a skilled and credentialed pipeline into local manufacturing positions. This strategic initiative aligns with the forecasted growth in manufacturing positions over the next four years, ensuring the region is well-prepared for its economic future.

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