GOLDSBORO, N.C — Smithfield Foods Inc. announced on Sept. 20 that it is starting a new apprenticeship program that will develop the next generation of professionals for skilled trades.

The company said the program provides military veterans, high school graduates and internal candidates with hands-on engineering and mechanic training while earning an associate degree. Each participant receives free tuition, salary and benefits as they move through the program.

“The workforce is changing rapidly, and we understand the importance of preparing the next generation of manufacturing professionals with an adaptable and diverse skillset,” said Lisa Swaney, chief human resources officer for Smithfield Foods. “Our new apprenticeship program provides a unique opportunity for emerging talent to develop a strong understanding of the field and, ultimately, a long and prosperous career with Smithfield.”

Smithfield started the apprenticeship program at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and plans to expand the initiative across the nation by partnering with colleges near other company facilities. The company also worked with NCWorks and ApprecenticeshipNC to give future workers all the resources needed.

“With increasing automatization, both physical and digital, it is more critical than ever to have a workforce with the right skills,” said Howard Anderson, chief engineer for Smithfield Foods. “This apprenticeship program will be a key source of new talent for our organization.”

Another apprenticeship location will be opened next year at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska.