GREENSBORO, N.C. — Thanks to a new apprentice program put on by the county, Gabe Johnson was able to graduate college in August without any debt and now has endless opportunities.


What You Need To Know

  • The Rockingham County RockATop Program is put on by the county government
  • The program is open to any Rockingham County junior or senior high school students
  • Gabe Johnson is one of the first 17 graduates from the program


Johnson is a computer aided design technician, also known as a CAD technician, for Machine Specialist Incorporated. Using computer software, he makes sketches of a part and then uses 3D printing to transform it into real life.

"The first feeling is that I’m nervous and anxious, that’s it’s right, because I’m one of the first steps, so if I’m off, a few things maybe off down the road," Johnson said. "I don’t know, it just makes me feel good seeing something I created that has come down the production line, and I had a small hand in, but I did have a hand in it."

It’s a fairly new job, which he just started in August. He learned the skills while taking part in Rockingham Community College’s RockATop Apprentice Program.

"I’m excited. I got skills I can use, knowledge in the right place, and not just knowledge that I gained by working with older people, and I’m just ready for the rest of my life," Johnson said.

He signed on in 2018 when he was still a senior in high school. Now, he’s one of the first 17 graduates from the program. It allowed him to attend college for free, and also paid him to work more than 35 hours a week at Machine Specialists.

"Four-year college wasn’t for me. I wanted to start working, and this was a nice easy way to introduce me to college, give me knowledge, give me schooling, give me a diploma and give me four years working experience," Johnson said.

He says he’s always wanted to do something in engineering but just didn’t know what, even though he studied technology at McMichael High in Rockingham County.

"I get to use my brain everyday, I get to be creative and use 3D software, I get to [do] analysis prints, I get to use the skill I learned in college and high school to do what I do now," Johnson said.

He says being a part of this program has helped him grow both professionally and personally.

"Insane. I’m a completely different person professionally and outside of work, I have more respect for myself because I surround myself with successful people," Johnson said.

Johnson says the program gave him a huge head start, and says he’s much further ahead than he would have been if he’d attended a four year institution.

Johnson received more than 8,000 working hours in his field while earning his associates degree. The Rockingham County RockATop Program is put on by the county government.

The program is open to any Rockingham County junior or senior high school student enrolled in public school, private school, charter school or a North Carolina registered home school who has legal status to work in the United States and who meets the program’s eligibility guidelines.