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RCC Apprenticeship program at Lumbee Holdings, Inc. soars, shapes future of next generation

The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, well-known for being the largest tribe east of the Mississippi, continues to grow exponentially – but not just in membership. The Tribe has a corporate side as well which is committed to seeking innovation by constantly developing new strategies in business to better serve its people.

With leadership that seeks creative, out-of-the-box thinking, the Tribe is reaching new heights, not only in the Indian Country but in the free enterprise system.

Take Lumbee Holdings, Inc., a federal contractor for the United States Government. This branch of the Lumbee Tribe is currently comprised of three subsidiary companies which are bringing much-needed resources and helping to create employment opportunities locally and worldwide, making it one of the major economic engines of the Southeast.

“We are a forward-thinking company,” stated CEO Joshua Malcolm. “We want to show the world that the Lumbee Tribe is thriving economically, and we hope to become a dominant force in commerce.”

One of the most recent ideas introduced by Malcolm was to incorporate an apprenticeship program in which young Lumbee students could gain real-world experience and skills while being exposed to the various aspects of the workforce.

“Apprenticeships create a skilled workforce, which in turn becomes a powerful tool to drive workforce and economic development,” stated Malcolm. “As the CEO, I felt it was time to explore an apprenticeship program that pairs on-the-job training with what is being learned in the classroom, and so far, the results have been amazing. My only regret is that I wish we had started this many years ago.”

Through a partnership with Robeson Community College and ApprenticeshipNC, Lumbee Holdings, Inc. garnered three apprentices, in which a portion of their wages would be subsidized through the State of North Carolina. Apprentices must complete 2000 hours, and as an added benefit, apprentices receive assistance with tuition, making it a win-win for both the employer and the students.

“I really appreciated the exposure I have received through the apprenticeship,” stated Seth Bullard, an IT apprentice for Lumbee Holdings, Inc. “A lot of times I was able to flip-flop between school and work as far as learning, so I was learning stuff from school and applying it to work, and I was learning stuff at work and able to apply it to school.”

Bullard recently graduated from Robeson Community College with a degree in Information Technology. He is currently enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He has been an apprentice for approximately one year.

“We have responsibilities and things we are expected to do for the company, it’s just like we are full-time employees,” Bullard said. “It’s helpful I think for our next job…so that we are prepared for when we get out, it won’t be a huge shock, it will be mostly stuff that we’ve already done.”

For Benjamin Brooks, a business and marketing apprentice, the exposure and the experience have been an opportunity of a lifetime.

“You’re not going to find a job where you are going to find the amount of experience and exposure you get here as far as the work that you are doing,” said Brooks. “A lot of times with apprenticeships, you’re going to be shadowing somebody, maybe sitting at a desk and you’re on your phone the whole time not really doing anything, but Lumbee Holdings, Inc. has really provided a lot of hands-on experience and opportunities and you meet a lot of people.”

“I really thought when I first applied that it was going to be a great résumé builder…that’s how I viewed it, but I’ve really learned to appreciate the experience that I’ve gained,” Brooks added.

Brooks, whose grandfather was once the Tribal Chairman, says he felt welcomed when he first came.

“They had already accepted me and so the transition was very smooth,” Brooks said.

“Lumbee Holdings, Inc. lets you do significant work,” stated Aaron Lowry, an accounting apprentice for Lumbee Holdings. “It shines the light on the opportunities out in the world…I didn’t think I was going to be able to be in this kind of corporate setting where I could get the experience and the benefits that I am getting now.

Lowry adds, “I am exposed to all the different facets of the company. Most accounting jobs are specialized, whether it’s accounts payable, accounts receivable, or payroll, but I’m doing it all. All the different levels of accounting, I’m getting exposed to it, so that’s my favorite part of the apprenticeship.”

From left to right: Longtime friends Aaron Lowery, Benjamin Brooks, and Seth Bullard work together during an apprenticeship opportunity through a partnership with Lumbee Tribe Holdings, Inc., Robeson Community College, and ApprenticeshipNC that is designed to prepare students for the workforce and give them the confidence they need to be successful.

The three apprentices – Seth, Benjamin, and Aaron – all work together in a small office down the road from the main headquarters in Pembroke. They grew up together and say this apprenticeship was just destined to be.

“It all happened randomly,” Brooks said. “We all knew each other prior to working here. We all grew up together, played ball together, it was just random how we all started working here, no one recommended anyone.”

“I was here first,” Bullard said with a smile. “They asked me about Ben and if I knew him, and I was like yeah, we’re like family…. And then they said, well what about this guy Aaron?”

“It was just meant to be, it’s been good, I assume that this is where we are all supposed to be, I think it was for a reason,” Bullard said.

The three are the first Native American apprentices in the ApprenticeshipNC program, and the first Native American apprentices for a federal contractor. It’s a fact that makes them all very proud.

“As an Indian kid, you’re kind of given like this shielded view of what you can do, because you’re an Indian,” Bullard said. “This has been big for us, as well as people around us to see that little Indian kids can do bigger things, they can work for federal contractors at 18, 19, 20 years old, so I think that’s pretty crazy, for me it is at least.”

The apprenticeship is also a way that they can all give back.

“The best part about being a Lumbee and working here is you get to feel like you’re helping the community,” Lowry said. “This company is owned by the Tribe, so the profits that we make, a portion of it goes back to the Tribe and the Tribe uses that money to help the Lumbee people… I love that we can help the community.”

And, as the apprentices have discovered, there are always opportunities to help educate those who may not be from Robeson County.

“I love going away and telling people where I work, it’s almost like people don’t believe me, and then they say, ‘like you’re working for the government too?’” Brooks said with levity. “So, you have to break it down for them because a lot of people are not familiar with the Lumbee Holdings, Inc. and the important work we are doing for our Nation, so I like doing that.”

The three hope to see the apprenticeship program grow at the Lumbee Holdings, Inc., recognizing the significance it can have on future generations.

“We are the first apprenticeships to come through…as it kind of gets a rhythm and gets up and going and gets more…regardless of what we do in the future, it will always point back to the Lumbee Tribe and Lumbee Holdings, Inc.,” Brooks said.

“It just makes the Tribe look better,” said Lowry.

“I’m just so very thankful, I feel lucky, I don’t think many people get this kind of start,” Bullard stated.

“That’s why we hope to continue the apprenticeship program and expand,” stated Malcolm. “We want our young people to have opportunities to be successful and to realize the dream of an education and become productive citizens who can contribute in meaningful ways to society and the community in which they live.”

“This has been a remarkable journey,” Malcolm said. “It’s been great having the insight of college students and to have them be a part of our staff. They have a zeal for knowledge and discovering how to do something and we are really pleased with the results we have seen thus far.”

“The apprenticeship program has already paid back dividends and we are excited to see where this takes us in the future,” Malcolm adds.

If you are interested in starting an ApprenticeshipNC program within your organization, please contact George Pate, the apprenticeship coordinator, at gpate@robeson.edu or 910-272-3456.

Lumbee Holdings, Inc. is wholly owned by the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

 

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