Manufacturing companies are developing Registered Apprenticeship programs in order to address significant threats to their company’s success and sustainability.
Lack of a skilled labor pool is one of the greatest challenges to face the manufacturing industry. As equipment and control systems continue to become more automated and technical, the knowledge and skills required of the worker must also advance. These changes in manufacturing, coupled with the alarming fact that the majority of the skilled workforce is set to retire within 10 years, are leading companies like Innovative Refrigeration Systems, Inc. to develop their own customized solution.
Registered Apprenticeship Facilitates Custom-Built, Industry-Specific Training
For over 20 years, Innovative Refrigeration Systems, Inc. headquartered in Lyndhurst, Virginia, has successfully designed, fabricated, and installed customized turn-key industrial refrigeration systems. With a coast to coast national presence as well as projects in Mexico and Canada, Innovative Refrigeration Systems continues to expand the industry with state-of-the-art technology, energy saving solutions and innovative design. As a growing company, Innovative Refrigeration Systems had a need to hire new field and shop welders.
“It was hard to find skilled labor to fill positions,” says Ian Holleran, Continuous Improvements Engineer at Innovative Refrigeration Systems. “Innovative started its Registered Apprenticeship program in early 2016, and it is allowing us to bring in fresh talent, train employees from within and bring them up to a supervisory role, and allow us to have more skilled employees.”
“In a skilled trade area, you learn best when you have a combination of mentoring and on-the-job training. And the Registered Apprenticeship program is modeled after exactly that strategy,” says The Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board workforce officer, Debby Hopkins. “There are a minimum number of hours of mentored one-on-one, hands-on instruction and theoretical classroom training to make sure that the apprentices understand the “why” of what they’re doing.”
And that training program is custom-built to address each company’s specific needs and equipment. “We’re able to customize our program and add material that’s relevant to our industry,” says Holleran. “The refrigeration industry is a niche market. There are a lot of specifics that only apply in our industry. So allowing our apprentices to get the background knowledge of those details that all our engineers know will help them be a better worker.”
Improved Productivity and Employee Satisfaction
Innovative Refrigeration Systems has 13 registered apprentices currently in the program out of 50 employees in the shop. One of those apprentices is Bernardo Gaytan, general foreman. Gaytan had been working at the company for six years when the new program was offered to him. “I decided to take this program to refine my skills and get new knowledge. With all the information I have received, I can see clearer how to solve a problem. It will definitely help with my future advancement. I can take all this new information and share it everywhere I go.”
Shop welder and fellow apprentice, Leonard Scott, agrees. “The benefit of the program is how much you learn while doing it. You have other people here with you that know more, that are willing to help you out and teach you. You’re getting paid to learn, and at the end you get a journeyman’s card. It definitely helps you advance in the field. Instead of just being there to help a welder, you can actually BE the welder.”
4 Easy Steps to a Registered Apprenticeship Program
Holleran says developing Innovative Refrigeration System’s Registered Apprenticeship program was smooth and flexible. Their Apprenticeship Consultant at the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry was with them every step of the way, from developing the instruction through the final paperwork. “We were able to pick and pull modules that would be relevant to our needs and our employees and use that as our training. And also there’s very little paperwork. There are a few forms for each employee and a form for the company as a whole, and our Apprenticeship Consultant came to our site and helped us fill those out. And the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board also provided us with funds to cover 50% of the training costs.”
“If a company is considering Registered Apprenticeship, now is a great time to dive in,” says Hopkins. Occupations that are advanced manufacturing can qualify for part of their tuition to be paid under a grant recently obtained by Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board. “For a skilled trade pipeline, it’s hard to beat a Registered Apprenticeship program, because you’re planning now for your future needs.”