Name: Perry Sharpe
College: Guilford Technical Community College
High School: Eastern Guilford High School, Class of 2021
Hometown: McLeansville, N.C.
Company: City of High Point Fleet Services Department
Job Role: First-year apprentice
Having a talent for working on cars, trucks, and heavy equipment runs in the Sharpe family. Perry Sharpe, a senior at Eastern Guilford High School and a first-year apprentice for the City of High Point’s Fleet Services Department, is following in his mechanic father’s footsteps by pursuing a career in diesel engines and equipment.
“I work on a lot of equipment, really anything that uses diesel,” Perry says. “I keep the diesel engines and parts well maintained, keeping up with maintenance on the fleet. It’s pretty fun what I do.”
Perry’s apprenticeship is through the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) program. He goes to school and works for the City of High Point. Perry started the program the summer after his junior year in high school. After he graduates from high school in May, he will attend Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) and continue working for the City of High Point Fleet Services Department.
As a city employee, Perry earns a steady paycheck with benefits, including health insurance and a 401K. When he attends GTCC next year, his tuition, fees, and books will all be paid for by GAP; he’ll continue earning an income while, at the same time, not incurring any college costs.
When Perry graduates from GTCC in 2024, he’ll have an associate degree in diesel and heavy equipment technology with zero debt, four years of experience working in his preferred career field, and a full-time job with the City of High Point Fleet Services Department.
“I like working with my hands, especially with cars,” says Perry. “My dad was a mechanic and it kind of just trickled down to me and what I like doing.”
Perry pursued the apprenticeship program after an information session at school piqued his interest. It seemed like a natural fit for him — he wanted to pursue a career in the automotive industry; he preferred working with his hands and he could learn through doing; and he would earn a degree at no cost while also earning a steady paycheck. “Not only am I getting a stable job, but I’m getting the education that I need for my career,” he says.
Perry has had other jobs working on cars and trucks, but not at the level of expertise needed for the City of High Point Fleet Services Department . “I’ve learned a lot just by doing it, not just sitting in the classroom learning it,” says Perry. “I’d rather do it first, then learn it. I do stuff hands-on all the time.”
Apprenticeship has many obvious perks — a steady job, benefits, an associate degree at no cost — but it also has other, more subtle perks such as learning to handle job responsibilities, managing money, investing in a retirement plan, and the confidence that comes with being able to handle all of it at a young age.
For Perry, those more subtle perks are as rewarding as the financial ones. “Through everything I’ve learned on the job, I’m more confident in what I’m doing,” he says. “I don’t second guess myself anymore.” “I have to do the job, and I’m held to a high standard,” continues Perry. “This is a work environment so I have to do my job just like everyone else. It definitely helps you mature and grow up.”
The apprenticeship program is designed so students can focus on learning both on the job and in the classroom. “You only have two classes each semester,” says Zakiya. “It helps with balancing everything because you don’t have too much of a load, but you have enough where you can balance.”
From applying to the apprenticeship program to getting through his first year, Perry has leaned on his support system at Eastern Guilford High School. His wrestling and football coaches have had to accommodate his schedule and have done so without complaint. “They understand that this is about my life after high school,” he says.
Juggling school, sports, and a job isn’t easy, but Perry likes to stay busy. “It keeps my life full,” he says. “I don’t want to sell myself short. I want to do as many things as I can. I give 100% to everything I do.”
Perry thinks of his coworkers as mentors as they’ve taught him more than just the skills needed to do the job; they’ve also introduced him to some other aspects of machining. “They’ve taught me how to weld,” he says. “They bought me a helmet and showed me how to do it. It’s pretty cool.”
“I’m benefitting from school and I’m able to get work experience,” says Perry. “A four-year college isn’t the only way to go. At the end of the day, with apprenticeship, you get a lot of real-life experience.”