Name: Zakiya Westbrook
College: Guilford Technical Community College
High School: Dudley High School
Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.
Company: Machine Specialties, Inc. (MSI)
Job Role: Third-Year Apprentice, Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) Department
For 20-year old Zakiya Westbrook, the typical college experience wasn’t the best fit. She decided instead to participate in the Guilford Apprenticeship Program (GAP). “It seemed like a better option for me personally than going to a traditional university,” she says. “I liked the hands-on portion about getting the experience instead of getting the education and trying to figure out how to get the experience.”
Zakiya started the apprenticeship program the summer after she graduated from Dudley High School. She’s now in her third year at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) and working in the non-destructive testing (NDT) department at Machine Specialities, Inc. (MSI), a manufacturing company specializing in contract machining and metal finishing.
Through GAP, Zakiya goes to school at GTCC part-time and works part-time at MSI. Her tuition, fees, and books are all paid for, so she’s earning an income while, at the same time, not incurring any college costs. When she graduates in 2022 with her associate degree in advanced manufacturing, she’ll have zero debt, four years of experience working in the field, and a full-time job ready for her at MSI.
After learning about GAP from her high school career counselor, Zakiya was immediately drawn to the idea of getting hands-on experience while going to school. “It’s kind of like getting ahead,” she says. “When you graduate, you know as much as some of the regular employees that are a lot older than you.”
Zakiya has been training in MSI’s NDT department for the past two years and she’s now certified. “Now I have more responsibility in helping move the line, doing more paperwork, and getting more hands on than I was before.”
Applying to GAP was a straightforward process for Zakiya –– fill out an application, attend open houses at participating companies, and decide which companies might be the best fit. She was drawn to MSI after she visited. “I had never been in a machine shop before then,” she remembers.
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.”
The benefits of apprenticeship are as gratifying personally as they are professionally. Zakiya shares, “I’m more confident. I’ve gotten better at public speaking, being more confident in my answers, and what I’m doing. The people within my department actually help me a lot…They have some good advice…I recently was purchasing a townhouse, so they gave me advice about things to look for.”
She’s also gaining confidence through playing an integral role in the company’s manufacturing process. As part of the NDT department, Zakiya examines parts to be sure there aren’t any cracks or imperfections invisible to the naked eye. She says, “It’s actually a lot of responsibility because our parts go on aircraft and things like that.”
Zakiya would like to see more young women pursue careers in manufacturing and technology. “Being in this field, it’s not as known,” she says. “It’s mainly, girls do nursing, girls do stuff like that. I want to help people find different paths.”
Zakiya doesn’t have FOMO when it comes to the traditional college experience. “A lot of people feel as if apprenticeship takes away that experience of going to college and everything…You still have your free time outside of work to do whatever you want to do. Just because I work every day and go to school every couple of days, it doesn’t mean it takes away from my youth as a whole.”
She has some advice for any students trying to decide what to do after their high school graduation: “At least try it…Going into the GAP apprenticeship program, it showed me different opportunities.”