Name: Omar Rodriguez
College: Rockingham Community College, Class of 2022
High School: Reidsville High School, Class of 2019
Hometown: Reidsville, North Carolina
Company: Amcor Specialty Cartons Americas LLC
Job Role: Third-year apprentice, maintenance department
Omar Rodriguez has always liked to work with his hands. Growing up, his dad liked working on mechanics and Omar often pitched in. “Helping him made me like doing hands-on stuff,” says Omar. “I feel like I learn more that way.”
After discovering the Rockingham Apprenticeship Technical Opportunities Partnership (RockATOP) program through an information session at Reidsville High School, Omar was immediately drawn to the idea of earning his associate degree at no cost while, at the same time, working a hands-on job and earning a paycheck. “It really interested me — knowing they would help pay for college and that I would have experience,” he says.
Omar started RockATOP’s apprenticeship program the summer after his junior year of high school. Today, he goes to school at Rockingham Community College (RCC) and works at the Reidsville location of Amcor Specialty Cartons Americas LLC.
As an Amcor employee, Omar earns a steady paycheck with benefits, including health insurance. Through the program, his RCC tuition, fees, and books are paid for. He’s able to earn an income while, at the same time, not incur any college costs. When he graduates from RCC in 2022, he’ll have an associate degree in advanced manufacturing with zero debt, four years of experience working in his preferred career field, and a full-time job with Amcor.
Amcor is a global leader in the packing industry operating 23 locations in 17 countries. The company has around 130 employees in their Reidsville location, including two apprentices. The company manufactures cigarette cases and cartons for some of the country’s biggest cigarette brands.
Omar works in maintenance for Amcor. His department is responsible for taking care of the machines in the plant. “There’s a lot of mechanical and electrical that keeps the machines running,” he says.
Juggling school and a job means being responsible and good with time management. “It’s not the easiest thing, but it’s manageable if you really try,” says Omar.
For Omar, some days are dedicated solely for school and some solely for work. His general education classes for RCC — English, math, and social sciences — have been mostly online this year. His favorite classes are the ones held on campus involving mechanics and a hands-on approach. “I took a few electrical classes, which helped me understand a lot at work,” he says.
He’s learning the most from his mentors in Amcor’s maintenance department. “I think the advantage is working with other people who have experience doing what you want to do,” he says. “You learn from them.”
In addition to job skills, Omar is discovering through real-world experience that he’s capable of successfully handling a lot of responsibilities. “I’m more confident,” he says. “Working with older people has helped me mature.”
“Students who like to work with their hands would do well in the apprenticeship program,” says Omar. “If you’re considering it, my advice would be show up to work and do everything you’re required to do. Try your best.”
He continues, “It’s been a good experience for me — going to school, going to work, online classes. It’s manageable and it will be worth it in the long run.”