In today’s constantly changing and technically sophisticated business landscape, companies around the country are facing significant talent shortages and skill gaps, often paying a high price in lost productivity and profits.
A variety of federal and state programs administered through Workforce Development Boards and their partners strive to change that. In the northern Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board (SVWDB) works with regional training programs and other partners to provide businesses with the latest information and tools they need to recruit, train and retain the skilled workforce required to compete in domestic and global markets.
One such resource is Registered Apprenticeship, a national system of industry-driven on-the-job training delivered through partnerships with private industry. Registered Apprenticeship is an “earn as you learn” training model that combines work-based learning with related classroom instruction using the highest industry standards. The customizable system has trained millions of apprentices for over 75 years.
For Design Electric, Inc. headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia, Registered Apprenticeship has proved to be a valuable asset for their company. “Design Electric started the apprenticeship program for our company back around 1984. We’ve continuously supported the program ever since,” says Casey Carwile, Personnel Director. Registered Apprenticeship “helps us to get the type of workers that we need to deal with a very challenging set of circumstances in the construction industry.”
The Competitive Advantage
The firm specializes in designing and installing electrical systems and control systems for commercial, institutional and industrial clients across the mid-Atlantic region. From automated lighting control to high voltage distribution to fiber optics and communications cabling, Design Electric utilizes the most current technology. “We’ve got to constantly be learning what’s on the cutting edge of the electrical construction industry,” says Carwile. “We’re constantly grooming our workforce to be able to meet the challenges of a very technical trade in a constantly changing work environment. Having apprentices that get training helps us to stay in the forefront of our market.”
For Colby Fitzgerald, a 4th year apprentice at Design Electric, being an electrician runs in the family. His father and his grandfathers were all electricians, and one grandfather taught the apprenticeship program at Design Electric. The Registered Apprenticeship is a great opportunity says Fitzgerald. “There’s a lot of like-minded people that want you to succeed and do well in your career. So you’re not ever alone. You have people helping you the whole time.”
Design Electric’s 4-year apprenticeship program partners with local area trade schools, with apprentices typically attending classes one night a week at Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center, Valley Career & Technical Center, or Massanutten Technical Center.
“You get off the jobsite and go to school and learn. And so it stays in your head,” says Hunter Adcock, 4th year electrical apprentice at Design Electric. “Once I get finished with the program, I’ll be a journeyman electrician and that will come with a lot more responsibility.”
Apprenticeship is Good for Business
Developing a world-class workforce that is highly trained in current technologies, safety procedures and electrical code has a far-reaching impact on Design Electric. “When you have a qualified worker that can go on site and do what has to be done… that produces a better finished product, that makes the customer happy, and that really results in better profits for our company,” says Carwile.
“Because apprenticeship is an “earn and learn” training model that combines work-based learning with related classroom instruction using the highest industry standards,” according to Debby Hopkins, SVWDB Workforce Officer and Project Director Valley OJT, “companies that offer Apprenticeship programs not only improve productivity and profitability, but they can standardize training, reduce turnover, and increase employee loyalty, to name just a few benefits.”