Most manufacturing and industrial companies agree that the search for talented young workers is a top priority today. This is because the skills gap for industry in this country has reached a boiling point as knowledgeable workers retire and reaching potential new employees grows more complicated and difficult.
While some manufacturers have discovered that internships offered to college students and others in their communities is a good tool, there is a second tool that may be underutilized today: offering apprenticeships.
Unlike with internships, which typically last a summer, a few months or a year, apprenticeships can be part of a longer-term strategy for employers. Like with internships, companies with apprenticeship programs connect high school graduates or other qualified candidates with hands-on training and valuable work experience. But with apprenticeships, these candidates are also prepared for a lifelong career in a trade or an industry. They also can provide employers with a means to help round out their workforces immediately.
PUTTING TOGETHER A PROGRAM
For some companies, establishing a functioning and successful apprenticeship program can seem a daunting task. Luckily, there are sources to help. For example, the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) launched an initiative called Apprenticeship Works, whose mission is to ensure that apprenticeship programs are not only accessible to employees, but affordable for employers. The Apprenticeship Works initiative assists manufacturers in the Mid- Atlantic area of the U.S. in all kinds of trades and occupations, from robotics technicians to machinists to press operators and more.
RCBI’s work is so highly regarded that in April of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor named RCBI a national leader in workforce development for its efforts in promoting apprenticeship programs.
The value of apprenticing is easily grasped. RCBI’s website notes that: “Companies that offer registered apprenticeship programs improve productivity and profitability, reduce turnover and attract better applicants.” Lucinda Curry, director of Apprenticeship Works adds that, “Each day, we see the value of apprenticeships in the lives and careers of employees as well as how this strategy enhances the companies that employ them.”
In the valve industry, apprenticeships are in place in several companies. VMA member company Richards Industries, a valve manufacturer based in Cincinnati, OH, has one such program. The company reports that it has been turning out skilled machinists through its apprenticeships since 2014. Cheryl Neiheisel, vice president for Human Resources at Richards Industries, says that the company’s program is vital because the pool of candidates for machining jobs is very small.
“It is important to bring in new hires and train them on math, safety, machining, etc., to help them become productive employees more quickly,” she points out.
Her comments reflect how many feel about apprenticeships—that they are needed as a way to bring in new candidates and train them rapidly and efficiently to be more productive and better qualified. Neiheisel says the strategy has already proven to do just that for Richards.
“Before the [apprenticeship] program, new trainees typically took three years to become CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machinists. With the current program, they are typically promoted to a Level 3 CNC operator within 18 months,” she says.
The apprenticeship program at Richards is a year-long program that includes one day of school per week while on-the-job training occurs over the course of a year. The apprentices work four, 10-hour days and then receive overtime pay to attend class on Fridays. At the completion of the program, the employees work towards a National Institute for Metalworking Skills certification.
As far as finding apprentices to hire into the program, Neiheisel says that Richards Industries works very closely with several local schools that offer machining during high school to find candidates. The company also partners with local trade and technical schools. These two steps ensure a good match, she says. Neiheisel says she has heard of other companies that form alliances with other employers, educators and workforce development groups to create a successful apprenticeship program.
HELP FOR EMPLOYERS
RCBI’s Apprenticeship Works initiative has developed several ways to aid employers in navigating their way to creating apprenticeships. Curry stresses that one of the goals for the initiative is to create a return on investment. That return begins with decreased time to develop a program. RCBI provides guidance in this area as well as expert management of any new initiative program.
“We do the heavy lifting,” Curry says, adding that: “We pull in the appropriate partners, fill any training gaps that might exist, develop on-the-job training and ultimately take development time down to a few months, rather than years.”
She says the first step in forming a partnership with RCBI is to set up a meeting onsite at a manufacturer’s facility. At this meeting, critical needs and training requirements are identified and prioritized. Curry often asks the employers at that meeting: “If you had a wish-list, what would it be?” From there, the staff at RCBI customizes and tweaks occupational outlines for on-the-job training, formats a program based on the needs of the employer, and even helps assess possible apprentices.
After this is all done, RCBI helps the company officially register its program with the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to the Department of Labor, “for every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers may get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity and greater front-line innovation,” while there is an estimated $27 return on investment for every federal dollar that is invested in an apprenticeship program.
Curry points out that apprenticeships have been around since the middle ages.
Still, “apprenticeship is a good training model for any company,” she notes. Even since the RCBI started its initiative, such programs have been updated and improved.