Childcare providers and early childhood professionals gathered at Southeastern Community College for an Early Childhood Educators Lunch and Learn event on Oct. 12 to learn about apprenticeships and financial resources through Building Bright Futures.  

Building Bright Futures is an initiative supported by the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, in partnership with the N.C. Office of the Governor and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Childhood Development and Early Education.  

Attendees heard from Building Bright Futures’ Program Director Megan Ford and Program Manager Megan Johnson. Ford explained that Building Bright Futures is operated out of the governor’s office but is non-partisan and non-political. The goal of Building Bright Futures is to support work-based learning in North Carolina.  

“The key here is that you have an apprentice working and getting paid at the same time they are going to school,” Ford said. “And that is where you marry that real-world application with the theory you’re learning in the classroom.” 

Ford emphasized that the program is employer-driven with all decisions left to the employer. She said that an employer has the right to change its mind, and that the program was not under contract. Johnson added that an apprenticeship program can have as little as one apprentice or as many as double the number of non-apprentice employees.  

“The juiciest benefit that we have to offer is a 50% wage-match reimbursement to apprentices and paid apprentices who are registered through Apprenticeship NC,” Johnson said. “That is a reimbursement that is paid directly to you as the employer.”  

Johnson explained that other benefits of Building Bright Futures is providing transportation for apprentices to a work-based learning site, providing materials and supplies for apprentices and covering any fees an employer may take on from an apprentice such as CPR training, uniforms or background checks.  

“It takes all of us as partners to make this early childhood thing work,” said Dr. Natalie Hinson, dean of institutional effectiveness and advancement. “We can’t do this by ourselves.” 

Hinson said that she first met with Ford and Johnson in a virtual meeting in February to listen to the resources that Building Bright Futures provides. Hinson described the troubles that childcare and childhood educators face in employment numbers and turnover rates. She explained the easy process of signing up with Building Bright Futures to provide financial support to SCC’s apprentices.  

“In early childhood, it’s really hard, especially right now, to recruit qualified staff,” Hinson said. “And whether it’s Southeastern or not, sign me up because I need some people. I need to grow my own. This is exactly what this apprenticeship program allows you to do.” 

Hinson praised Denise Young, apprenticeship coordinator, for her leadership on selecting the three apprentices that SCC’s Early Childhood Development Center has working right now. Hinson explained the apprentices are interviewed and picked from a pool of applicants. The goal of the apprenticeship program is to get as many signed as possible to fill the growing gap in qualified employees.  

“Early childhood is hard,” Hinson said. “But it is the most rewarding field, and all of you know that because that’s why you’re here. It’s not because of the money or because it’s a glamorous job, right? I leave here with all kinds of bodily fluids on me every day, and that’s okay.”  

SCC Executive Vice President Dr. Sylvia Cox said the apprenticeship model of earning while learning and working with a mentor will change the landscape for employers. She thanked the childcare providers and childhood educators present for their work during this “childcare desert.” 

“We are working to partner with Dr. Meadows and Dr. Williams on apprenticeships so we can really start this idea when students are young,” Cox said. “We’re super excited that students are interested in early childhood. We’re trying to change that dialogue that early childhood workers may not make enough money with all the resources that have been presented to you – the employers.” 

See more photos from the event