Apprenticeship programs hold the key to meeting the demand of employers for a highly skilled workforce to fill advanced manufacturing jobs.
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Challenges abound in today’s manufacturing environment, not the least of which are a rapidly evolving manufacturing process landscape with pressure to integrate new technologies and capabilities, and a dearth of workers experienced in these cutting- edge advanced manufacturing techniques. This “skills gap” may leave an estimated 2.4 million manufacturing jobs unfilled over much of the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Perhaps for these reasons an increasing number of United States employers are looking to the successes of European counterparts in adapting to these manufacturing labor shortages through the adoption of apprenticeship programs.
Apprenticeship programs offer many benefits to employers. Grounded in customized training that meets industry standards and tailored to the specific needs of businesses, apprenticeship programs result in highly skilled employees. On-the-job training with an experienced mentor promotes increased company-specific knowledge transfer. Classroom instruction provides apprentices with underlying principles, theories, and foundational knowledge to complement and add depth to their on-thejob training.
Apprenticeship programs offer a systematic approach to training that ensures that workers are trained and certified at the highest skill levels associated with their occupations. Apprenticeship models provide a stable and reliable pipeline of qualified workers and contribute to a safer workplace due to the safety training embedded into the program. Apprenticeship graduates enjoy increased job satisfaction and are able to contribute more productively because they are more thoroughly equipped to carry out their responsibilities. Apprenticeship programs are organized around five components. First, business involvement is critical and ensures that employers play an active role in designing an apprenticeship program and maintaining their involvement throughout the life of the program. Second, apprentices participate in structured on-the-job training in partnership with a mentor. Third, classroom instruction provides the technical and theoretical foundation for the hands-on training and incorporates national skill standards. Fourth, apprentices are paid by their employers when they begin work, while they are apprenticing, and receive pay increases as they meet benchmarks for skill attainment. Fifth, apprentices receive a recognized credential which is portable and signifies to employers that they demonstrate competencies critical to their occupation.
The apprenticeship model puts companies in charge of developing their own talent pipelines by building structured learning opportunities that integrate theory with hands-on experiences. Apprenticeship programs now extend well beyond the skilled trade professions to address more than 1000 occupations in areas including information technology, healthcare, energy, and advanced manufacturing. Apprenticeship programs offer a win-win scenario for employers and workers. Studies indicate that rates of return on apprenticeship investments are upwards of 50%: for every $1.00 invested in a registered apprenticeship program there is a $1.46 return in productivity (Labor, 2019). Individuals who participate in apprenticeship programs earn on average $240,037 more over the course of their careers than peers who do not participate (Mathematica Policy Research, 2012).
Partners Positioned to Offer Apprenticeship Programs
Pennsylvania College of Technology (PCT) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have recently been funded by the U.S. Department of Labor to offer apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs in advanced manufacturing. PCT has a strong history of providing apprenticeship programs and has trained over 100 apprentices in advanced manufacturing occupations. PCT is an expert in technical training and curriculum development, and a leader in addressing the skills gaps that challenge Advanced Manufacturers in Pennsylvania and the nation. Located in Williamsport, PA, PCT’s Workforce Development department serves needs of manufacturers locally, regionally and nationally. PCT was an early pioneer in developing Mechatronics programs for the Advanced Manufacturing sector. The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) brings to the partnership with PCT strengths in applied technical fields associated with engineering, technology, and science. The New Jersey Innovation Institute, NJIT’s business-facing non-profit corporation, contributes a portfolio of relationships and experience associated with assisting defense supply chain manufacturers and biopharmaceutical companies to incorporate innovation into their business practices and workforce preparation.
The PCT-New Jersey Innovation Institute apprenticeship model is called Modular Industry-Driven Apprenticeship Strategies (MIDAS). Central to the model’s design is a strong focus on tailoring the apprenticeship programs to the needs of employers. This tailoring is accomplished in several ways. Curriculum is organized in topical modules. Employers, in partnership with MIDAS staff, select the modules that will best meet each employer’s needs while assuring that apprentices learn the core competencies needed for certification in their particular occupational field. All registered MIDAS apprenticeship programs consist of several stacking competency-specific modules over a multi-year period. The instructional component is delivered to apprentices at the employer’s site or a mutually agreed-upon convenient location. The schedule for classroom instruction is tailored to employers’ needs. Journeyworkers responsible for mentoring apprentices’ on-thejob training can also receive instruction regard ing how to perform their mentoring roles effectively.
MIDAS core competency modules allow flexibility and customization, providing a framework to easily and quickly stack in multiple ways based on needs of employers, and where possible, establishing a pathway to academic credit. MIDAS employs a competency-based approach, meaning apprentices must demonstrate a high level of understanding of the technical aspects of the subject and prove competency in applying skills on the job to a Journeyworker. MIDAS competency-based models clearly outline necessary skills in various roles within a job so that employers can identify what training is required, who needs to be trained and at what urgency. With any incumbent worker training program, credit for prior learning is essential The RTI curriculum is competency-based and, where possible, individuals displaying competency mastery may place out of corresponding training classes.
MIDAS advanced manufacturing apprenticeship programs are or will be available for mechatronics technicians, computer numerical control technicians, plastics process technicians, light metals machinists and welders, biopharma process technicians, and industrial manufacturing technicians and operators. The mechatronics program incorporates four focus areas: mechanical components, fluid power, industrial electricity, and programmable logic controller (PLC). The computer numerical control (CNC) curriculum includes three modules, covering topics from manual machining to CNC programming. Plastics process apprentices will have injection molding and extrusion options. The light metals program builds on CNC elements and includes considerations associated with machining and welding various lightweight materials. The biopharma curriculum centers on biologics bioprocess development and manufacturing operations. The industrial manufacturing technician apprenticeship is designed to build introductory skills in industrial math, maintenance awareness, quality practice and measurement, manufacturing processes and production, and safety. In addition, MIDAS programming will address skills gap needs in areas such as project management, front-line supervision, LEAN six-sigma, and cybersecurity.
MIDAS also offers pre-apprenticeship programs. The pre-apprenticeship programs are designed to serve as “on-ramps” to advanced manufacturing jobs in mechatronics, CNC, plastics production, lightweight metal manufacturing, and bioprocessing. Through the MIDAS pre-apprenticeship program, out-ofwork youth, veterans, military spouses, and transitioning service members will be introduced to career paths in the advanced manufacturing occupations outlined earlier. Participants will be given workplace skills assessments; provided instruction on contextualized math, science, and technology; assisted with job-seeking preparation; and connected with participating MIDAS employers, all while earning an industry- recognized credential.
MIDAS matches and leverages millions of dollars of public and private investment, adding value to the apprenticeship programs and enhancing engagement of companies. MIDAS reduces the burden on smaller employers by aggregating training needs, coordinating training providers, and managing the work-based learning component. Funding from the U.S. Department of Labor grant provides companies with MIDAS tuition buy-down assistance.
Employers interested in more information on MIDAS and how to participate can contact Nancy Franklin at nancy@franklinsolutions. consulting or Chris Ray at email@example.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy Franklin, Principal of Franklin Solutions, collaborates with leaders of higher education, government, and business to facilitate strategic partnerships, innovation initiatives, talent development, agile planning, and program creation. Previously, she led strategic initiatives in community-university engagement, academic pathway development, sustainability, and technology-mediated learning at Virginia Tech, Penn State, and Indiana State University. Nancy is a Strategic Doing Fellow, an Academy of Community Engagement Scholars Member, and the author of more than a dozen publications. She holds a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s from Virginia Tech, and a bachelor’s from Bucknell University.