Group of people standing around an award

Blue Ridge Apprenticeship Program Earns State Honor

Featured photo: Joe Shook, Dean of Advanced Technologies; Brenda Blackburn, Dean of Business and Service Careers; Shawn McCallister, Advanced Manufacturing Engineer/Instructor; Kelli Stewart, Apprenticeship Coordinator; Dr. Laura Leatherwood, College President; Carol Wheeler, Mechanical Engineering instructor; Dr. Scott Queen, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development; and Shanda Bedoian, Director of Corporate and Customized Training.

Apprenticeship Blue Ridge
earned one of six prestigious awards at the March 15 ApprenticeshipNC annual state conference in Wilmington. ApprenticeshipNC, a division of the North Carolina Community College System, named Blue Ridge Community College the 2022 Outstanding Registered Pre-Apprenticeship Program provider for efforts to thoroughly prepare students for a successful on-the-job training experience. The award specifically referenced the College’s efforts to support the Made in Henderson County Apprenticeship Program. Four Blue Ridge staff were present to accept the award on behalf of the College, including Kelli Stewart, Joe Shook, Shanda Bedoian, and Brenda Blackburn.

“A Blue Ridge Community College apprenticeship is an opportunity for a student to learn while they earn, gaining both experience and financial independence,” explained Apprentice Coordinator Kelli Stewart. “This award underscores our focus on preparing students to enter the workforce ready to succeed. With the needs of our students and employers in the forefront, our pre-apprenticeship program is designed to teach students the practical workplace skills they’ll need every day on the job.”

The Apprenticeship Blue Ridge program, with offerings in advanced manufacturing, automotive, electrical, and business/banking programs, allows students of all ages to earn industry-recognized credentials and free tuition through full-time, paid, on-the-job training in their chosen career fields. Blue Ridge Community College currently supports 55 apprentices serving 21 area employers. Companies benefit through reduced recruitment costs and increased employee retention, engagement, and productivity.

Prior to workplace assignments, apprenticeship candidates participate in the College’s 32-hour Working Smart pre-apprenticeship class, where they learn essential skills for their professional lives. Students get hands-on training in first aid, financial literacy, ethics, teamwork, conflict resolution, interviewing, and more. Company representatives observe the candidates throughout the class and during group exercises, and the top candidates are selected for employment. Whether or not the pre-apprenticeship results in a work assignment, the professional development class is free, students gain practical skills for employability, and additional employment resources are made available.

“This is an opportunity to launch your career path and grow professionally,” said Joe Shook, Dean of Advanced Technologies at Blue Ridge Community College. “I’m incredibly proud of our apprentices, staff, and business partners for their award-winning effort in making apprenticeships an integral part of our area’s workforce development strategy.”

Blue Ridge is one of 58 community colleges in the state of North Carolina and was chosen for the Outstanding award from among 40 nominations. The recognition positions the College as a state-wide pace-setter in local apprenticeship work. This year’s conference theme was “Revive and Thrive: Creating an Inclusive Workforce Post-Pandemic.”

Apprenticeship Blue Ridge is accepting applications until 5 p.m. on April 22, 2022. Everyone who applies for the program is invited to pre-apprenticeship this summer with classes beginning in August. More information is available at