Part of the driver for the apprentice programs is an aging workforce in technical jobs. In the plastics tooling sector, for example, 52 percent of the workforce is at least 45 years old, according to the American Mold Builders Association.
"They are starting to see their workforce age out," Howze said. "They don't really have a pipeline of skilled workers to fill those positions."
North Carolina's apprenticeship programs are not cheap for companies, though. When you add up on-the-job training, tuition and books, which are all paid by the company, it can cost $125,000 to $150,000 to train one apprentice over four years, said Poteat, who is also chairman of the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners, a program that started in Greensboro last year.
Companies don't see it as a panacea, but believe it can create a pipeline of skilled, educated technical staff like process technicians, mold makers or machinists.
"This is one solution; it's not the only solution," Poteat said. "There's no magic potion or bullet to fix the people issue."
Still, interest is growing. Howze said there are currently 900 students in North Carolina's formal youth apprenticeships, with the number of first-year students doubling this year and possibly doubling again next year.
"We are seeing a huge growth in the number of youth who are entering apprenticeship programs," she said.
That mirrors the startup effort in Guilford County. Poteat said it will likely grow from 14 students this year, its first year, to an incoming class of more than 30 next year, as more companies join.
A 2015 study from the Manufacturing Institute in Washington said manufacturers face a potential gap of 2 million skilled employees in the next decade.
It said that 22 percent of the current 12.3 million employees in manufacturing, or 2.7 million people, will reach retirement age by 2025, and that regular growth will create an additional 700,000 new manufacturing jobs.
Based on current difficulties filling skilled technical jobs and from its surveys of executives, the group estimated manufacturers could have trouble filling 60 percent of those 3.4 million openings.