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Workforce Development

Building vs. Buying Talent

MassMEP’s Machine Operator Apprentice Program 

By: Leslie Parady, MassMEP Project Manager

Despite double digit unemployment, advanced manufacturing firms are still searching for highly skilled people to fill open positions. Critical skills are scarce and about to become much scarcer as the skills gap grows and the “Baby Boomers” retire.

Manufacturing is one of four industries preparing for a mass exodus of retiring, skilled employees. At the same time, the Department of Education estimates that 60% of all 21st century jobs require skills possessed by only 20% of the workforce.  The result—fewer and lower quality workers, especially in areas that require a high skill level.  

Advanced manufacturing firms will be forced to reevaluate their workforce and hiring strategies and take it upon themselves to close the skills gap. As we pull out of the current economic recession, companies can no longer just hire for today’s needs, they must hire for tomorrow’s needs.

A large amount of resources (time, effort and money) go into recruiting and retaining the “right” person to fill a position. The focus is on finding and hiring someone who possesses all of the necessary technical, problem solving and interpersonal skills. The cost of hiring can range anywhere from 25% to 200% of the position’s annual salary. With fewer and fewer people who possess the right skills set walking through the door, positions are going to remain vacant longer. The longer it takes to fill the position, the higher the cost. The higher the rate of turnover, the higher the cost.

What happens if you build them instead of buying them? What happens if you harness all of the knowledge that is retiring and transfer it in a structured way to the next generation of workers? The workforce of the future. Your workforce of the future.

The answer has been around for a long time, and has gone by many different names, but by establishing an apprentice program, companies can retain the critical knowledge that differentiates them from their competitors.

Apprenticeship is the process of learning a skilled occupation through both on the job training and learning the related technical knowledge in a classroom.

With roots in a 2005 Department of Labor grant to train entry level machine operators, MassMEP’s Machine Operator Apprentice program has grown to encompass both pre-apprentice and apprentice credentials.

Pre-apprentice training is an intense, focused practical skills, theory, and hands-on curriculum conducted over two consecutive weeks. The curriculum is instructor led with self-paced computer training modules. The curriculum can be customized to meet a specific need but focuses on the universal manufacturing skills, including shop math, blueprint reading, metrology and machine operation. Each module contains a series of tests to measure each student’s comprehension of the material. The unique “fast track” training process is designed to produce basically trained employees for manufacturing companies. 

Upon completion of the course, students are awarded a Massachusetts’ Pre-Apprentice Certificate and are credited with 100 hours of classroom training. The hours can be applied to the 150 classroom hours per year required of apprentice programs. Pre-apprentice training prepares the employee for more advanced, job specific training.

A pre-requisite of MassMEP’s Machine Operator Apprentice Certificate requires a person to attend the two week pre-apprentice program. From there they must complete an advanced training and programming class, covering topics such as set up, fixturing, tool selection and advanced inspection techniques. The employer provides the 2000 hours of on-the-job training required to develop a technically competent employee. Unlike the traditional four year machinist apprenticeships, Machine Operator Apprentices can attain their certificate after only one year.

And this isn’t a program just for those fresh out of school. MassMEP recently signed its first full apprentice, and he is 56 years old. His advanced skills training allowed him to retain a position with a local manufacturing firm. Two other apprentices have recently been placed and more are planned. Our second full class graduates in mid-April. Their apprentice ID card assures an employer that they have mastered a list of industry competencies.

Apprenticeships are ideal for the needs of a small company. MassMEP’s accelerated format does not require the maintenance of an extensive and an expensive infrastructure. In an environment which needs people to contribute to the work place as quickly as possible, apprentices are able to hit the ground running with their mix of academic and practical skills.

For more information about MassMEP’s Machine Operator Apprentice program or our current advanced manufacturing class, please call Ted Bauer or Leslie Parady at 508-831-7020.

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