Training apprentices requires new methods; Part II: Where to find apprenticeship candidates

Steve Rotman, president of Ameritech Die & Mold (Mooresville, NC), has had a working relationship with the local high schools for nearly a decade, and it continues to pay dividends. "We just graduated apprentices and we'll have three next year - one is still in high school," Rotman says. "It's a healthy practice to keep you're either going to be an apprentice-building shop or you're not, but you've got to be doing this all the time - always keeping people in the training loop. In the past we've had a gap if we didn't have people ready to come into the program. We always need new people coming into the program. You have to do it no matter what because you'll eventually need the people as you grow a space through attrition or expanding business."

Mold-Tech Inc., which was recently a Manufacturing Company of the Year award from Minnesota Business magazine, is building out its apprenticeship program through work with the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association. Founded in 1978, the Albertville, MN-based mold manufacturer has achieved success through a continuous improvement program, and a serious marketing effort which includes two tradeshows a year. From 2009 to 2010, Mold-Tech saw an increase in sales of 21%, at a time when other companies were struggling.

In 2010, the company made a decision to increase its lead base in order to reach a greater number of potential customers and markets, and in 2011 exhibited at six tradeshows nationally. This increase in business has also created a need for more employees, so Mold-Tech has created multiple programs to attract and retain employees.

The company works closely with the local technical college (Alexandria Technical College) and St. Michael-Albertville High School, to promote manufacturing. "Manufacturing is an important sector in the Minnesota economy and over the last several years, we have noticed a shortage of skilled workers in our industry," said Rebecca Ford, Quality Assurance Manager. "Our goal in getting early at the high school level is to promote machine tool technology as a good career path and to help eliminate the outdated image of manufacturing as merely assembly-line type work."

Mold-Tech got involved with Alexandria Technical & Community College to give support to its staff and to offer students exposure to mold making as a career choice. The company has hosted several plant tours for the Machine Tool Technology Program, which gives students a first-hand look at modern machine tools in the mold making industry. As a result, the company has hired several graduates from Alexandria Technical & Community College.

Tim Peterson, vice president of Industrial Molds Group in Rockford, IL, said that company currently has two apprentices in formal training. "It's a four-year program in conjunction with the local college in Rockford," said Peterson. "We also did two internships recently, one paid and one unpaid for engineering. A lot of the things they learn such as the math required, and hands-on training such as CNC skills, are much the same as we did years ago. Certainly however, today's shop environment - when you walk through it - has changed. You don't see as much paper lying around. You see computers and computer screens, but not so much paper anymore. Even the guys that continue to use paper still put up the electronic data for their reference."

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