GAP program alumna in male-dominated industry changing the tide

Published on: February 20, 2024
Portrait of Courtney Smith.
GTCC and GAP program alumna Courtney Smith graduated debt-free and immediately began working for Machine Specialties, Inc.


Unlike a lot of fresh-out-of-college young adults, Courtney Smith knew exactly what she wanted to do and who she was going to work for after she graduated from Guilford Technical Community College in the spring of 2022.

Smith spent four years enrolled in the Guilford Apprenticeship Partnership (GAP) program, working as an apprentice for Machine Specialties, Inc. (MSI).

The GAP program offers students the chance to work as an apprentice for a local company while getting their education. Students are not only paid for their time on the job, but also for the time spent in class.

Smith would spend a total of 40 hours per week either working or in class time, all while getting paid as an hourly employee.

Splitting time between work and the classroom was Smith’s key to success as she learned about the machining industry.

“As an apprentice at GTCC, you learn about your field while also working in that role. There are several different career paths to choose from, such as advanced manufacturing, HVAC, and automotive,” said Smith. “My working environment was also my learning environment because everything we learned in class, I was already learning at my job.”

Smith describes her apprenticeship role as a hands-on, overarching experience. In her first year at MSI, she spent time in every department within the company learning the basics of each job. At the end of the year, she was able to narrow her leaning focus to four areas within MSI she was most interested.

This rotating model proved vital to Smith’s current role as a quotations specialist, a role she moved into right after graduating from GTCC with her associate degree in advanced manufacturing and applied sciences.

Smith is responsible for quoting clients accurate prices for the manufacturing of their ordered parts. Some packages can include as many as 50 individual parts in a single order.

“Specifically, with MSI, having the rotations within the shop gave me a better idea of the entire manufacturing process,” explained Smith. “Understanding each aspect allows me to make accurate quotes for our customers.”

Jay Simmons, apprenticeship program manager for MSI and Smith’s current boss, believes GTCC’s GAP program prepared her well for her role in the company.

“The cooperation from GTCC through scheduling and communication helps solidify the success of our GAP Apprentices that take coursework at the college,” said Simmons. “Specifically with Courtney, the relationships that she formed with administrators and instructors at GTCC enabled her to choose coursework and modify her schedule to meet her needs.”

Looking back at her time in the GAP program, Smith credits her career success to the program and the vital benefits it provides.

Smith, like all students in the GAP program, had her tuition, books, parking passes, and everything she needed to be successful completely covered financially.

“I enrolled in the GAP program because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college and I thought, well, if I don’t know what I want to do, it’ll be better to not pay for it,” said Smith. “I thought it was the best option because I come from a single parent household, with three siblings, so I didn’t want to have student loans and stress my mom out with having to help me pay those off.”

Having graduated debt-free, Smith can now focus on her post-college life and career. As a woman in a male-dominated field, Smith is looking forward to seeing her field change and diversify.

“It’s nice to see women interested and being implemented in this field of work. When I started, there seemed to be some hesitation from older men on whether young women could work on CNC machines,” said Smith. “But after seeing how my fellow women and I applied ourselves in each department and did our jobs just as well, if not better, than the guys, we are definitely wanted now.”

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