By Kerria Weaver
Michael Fisher started working with the N.C. Department of Transportation right after he graduated from East Bladen High School in 2001.
Over the years, Fisher gained the skills he needed to become a bridge maintenance engineer for the department.
“As long as you step up and have the initiative to improve yourself, this place will give you the opportunity if you want to take it,” said Fisher, who lives in Elizabethtown.
NCDOT officials are encouraging others to follow in Fisher’s footsteps. The department is launching new initiatives aimed at recruiting workers without college degrees to fill hundreds of vacant positions across the state.
Want to keep up with more news from the Border Belt Independent? Sign up here for our weekly newsletter.
The On-the-Job Training Program is a two-week summer course for high school students to learn the ins and outs of road construction. It’s under the department’s Office of Civil Rights, and NCDOT says the goal is to help “minorities, women, veterans, and disadvantaged individuals who have been historically underrepresented in highway construction job opportunities.”
The program was offered in Forsyth County and at Yancey High School this summer but will expand to other locations across the state, said Andrew Barksdale, a spokesman for NCDOT.
This fall, the Transportation Apprenticeships Program will begin for high school graduates. Following the program, which is open to anyone in the state, participants can become full-time NCDOT employees.
NCDOT has a job vacancy rate of 21%, Amanda Olive, the department’s human resources director, said in a news release. Many of the job openings, she said, are for entry-level positions that have starting salaries of more than $38,000.
That’s more than the per-capita income of $25,975 in Bladen County, where Fisher lives.
In the news release, Olive said entry-level employees can work their way up to higher salaries and even become supervisors.
Fisher, now 40, said a friend suggested NCDOT as a career path after high school.
“I had a friend in high school who graduated two years prior to me that had started with DOT and recommended it as a good job to have,” he said. “It was a good possible career opportunity, and I liked the security.”
At first, Fisher worked with small equipment and performed various road maintenance tasks. He took advantage of the department’s free engineering and highway courses and went on to earn an associate’s degree in engineering technology from Fayetteville Technical Community College.
Fisher, who is married and has a 12-year-old daughter, now earns $99,000 a year. He hopes other local teens will consider working for NCDOT.
“It’s a wonderful place to work,” he said.
Barksdale said the goal is to hire 100 high school graduates through the Transportation Apprenticeships Program.
“With the apprenticeship we’re going to give you some extra attention, time, training, pay, and employ you,” Barksdale said. “After six months to a year you’ll hopefully be ready to become a permanent employee.”