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home : news : news January 19, 2019

11/30/2018 12:01:00 AM
Childers Is Die-Setter For Cherryville's Keystone
Gaston College program made the difference
Michael Childers is working towards his apprenticeship as a die-setter for the Keystone Powdered Metal Company in Cherryville.
(Photos Courtesy Gaston College)

Michael Childers is working towards his
apprenticeship as a die-setter for
the Keystone Powdered Metal
Company in Cherryville.

(Photos Courtesy Gaston College)

(From Top to Bottom) Aspen Brown is joined by her Timken mentor, Eddie Flowers; Aspen Brown is seen here doing some troubleshooting of equipment. Harley Reynolds is flanked by Michael Childers and Matt Jacobs; Harley Reynolds is a five-year Keystone veteran.
(From Top to Bottom) Aspen Brown is
joined by her Timken mentor, Eddie
Flowers; Aspen Brown is seen here
doing some troubleshooting of equipment.
Harley Reynolds is flanked by Michael
Childers and Matt Jacobs; Harley Reynolds is
a five-year Keystone veteran.

Lincoln Herald Staff

DALLAS, N.C. - The Gaston College Apprenticeship 321 program continues to benefit its participants.

That’s the recent word from college spokeswoman Stephanie Michael Pickett. As Pickett explained, the program provides careers, education and sure paths to better lives by giving people opportunities for on-the-job training with local companies and a cost-free education from Gaston College.

One local participant isMichael Childers. He dropped out of East Lincoln High School in the ninth grade, in 2002. Childers didn’t like school and felt he was getting nothing by attending. Although at 16, he found work hanging sheetrock, and at 18, he began working for R-Anell, a builder of modular homes, Childers took some wrong turns and got in with the wrong crowd, as he recently said. That led to his involvement with drugs and a downward spiral.

But he turned his life around with treatment in 2015, and the next year, he began working as a machine operator at the Keystone Powdered Metal Company in Cherryville. Now clean and sober, Childers is a model worker.

Matt Jacobs, Keystone’s engineering and technology manager, heard about Childers’s work ethic and abilities and informed him about the Apprenticeship 321 program. He explained that through it, Childers could gain some valuable technical skills, continue to earn a salary and get a free education at Gaston College. Childers took classes there in order to get his GED. And because he had time to study and scored very highly on the placement test, he completed the requirements for the GED in just one month, rather than the approximately three months it usually takes.

Childers’s diligence and determination have served him well, as Jacobs noted.

“I have had the privilege to work with Michael since May,” he said. “He caught my attention through reports from my engineering staff. I would get reports of great work and ability, with a potential full of mechanical aptitude. Once I talked to Michael, he told me his goal was to become an engineer. I could not help but want to help Michael realize that goal.”

And so, as Jacobs pointed out, Childers is working towards his apprenticeship as a die-setter for Keystone.

“Michael has a bright future ahead,” he added.

At a signing ceremony Sept. 10, Childers was one of 10 new apprentices who signed contracts with their employers to begin the Apprenticeship 321 program. At the completion of the two-year program, he will have earned his journeyman certificate as a die-setter, and he will be fully qualified to perform the tasks required for the position. After he achieves that, he may set his sights on other positions in the future. He intends to remain at Keystone. 

Women apprentices

Another of the apprentices is Aspen Brown, who is apprenticing as a mechatronics technician at the Timken Company in Lincolnton. Timken is a world-leading manufacturer of bearings and mechanical power transmission products.

Brown, 18, also attended East Lincoln High. While there, she took computer-programming and drafting classes, amongst others she thought would acquaint her with areas she might want to explore as a career. She saw a presentation from Timken about the opportunities there, and when she learned about Apprenticeship 321, she felt it was something she wanted to pursue.

“I really liked the Timken presentation,” said Brown. “The people at Timken and Tanya Osbia, the student success coach with the Gaston College Apprenticeship 321 program, were the types of people I would want to work with and become friends with.”

After reviewing the classes that Brown had taken and learning about her interests, Timken suggested the mechatronics specialty for her apprenticeship. Mechatronics includes a combination of mechanical engineering, robotics, electrical engineering and computer science. Brown joined the Apprenticeship 321 program in September.

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Although males are in the majority in this field, Brown says she doesn’t feel being female presents any job-related, gender-specific challenges.

“There is still a job that needs to be done,” she said, “and it is expected of me to be able to do the same job as someone else, male or female. There are already plenty of women that work at Timken, so I don’t feel as if I am treated any differently.

“My short-term goal is to excel in my classes and finish the apprenticeship program,” she added. “My long-term goal is to get as many degrees and certificates as possible that are relevant, of course. There would be absolutely no reason for me to stop after the apprenticeship program. The sky is the limit!”

Brown expressed her gratitude to Eddie Flowers, her Timken mentor; supervisor Doug Smith; Osbia; Jill Hendrix, who co-ordinates the apprenticeship program; Roger Eger, Timken’s Lincolnton plant manager; fellow Timken apprentices Don Laney, Brandon Lambert and Randy Craig; and her many friends at Timken and Gaston College. 

Flowers, a senior process analyst, is impressed by the apprenticeship program.

“I love it,” he said. “I went through an apprenticeship 28 years ago, so I am a big advocate of the concept. Gaston College’s program is very exciting. The classrooms and technology labs in their center for advanced manufacturing give the apprentices and other students an excellent learning environment. We are fortunate to have this facility in our area.”

And another of the female apprentices is die-setter Harley Reynolds, 23, a five-year Keystone veteran. Jacobs met her on his first day at the company in February.

“She was setting up a 320-ton sizing press on a gear for Ford,” he recalled. “At this time, she was the only one training on these machines. Her trainer has 30 years of experience. I knew when I started at Keystone that I wanted to build an apprenticeship program with Gaston College. I had already done this with my previous company. Harley was the first to ask if she could be a part of this program, if I started one. She is the one female die-setter Cherryville has and the only one at Keystone. I am proud of Harley and feel she has a bright future.”

Reynolds attended North Gaston High for two years and Cherryville High for a year and a half. Graduation came a semester early for her. She’d like to continue her education after completing the apprenticeship program, and she hopes to become an engineer.

“For the time being,” she said, “my education goal would be to get all good grades. I would like to try to make it on the dean’s list, because my mom did when she attended Gaston College.”

Both Reynolds and Brown feel the Apprenticeship 321 program has been an excellent opportunity.

“It has been awesome, to say the least,” said Brown. “Timken and Gaston College have made sure that I have every resource that I need at my disposal to be successful. And more than that, they really do care about me as an individual. I am very glad I decided to join the program.”

Participants in the Apprenticeship 321 program receive job-specific training and a cost-free education from Gaston College, all whilst earning a salary from local employers.

For more information about the Apprenticeship 321 program, be sure to see the Website at Or contact Hendrix by telephone or e-mail respectively at (704) 922-6521 or

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