The growing demand for skilled workers in the advanced manufacturing sector continues to be at the forefront of discussions among business leaders and educators.
Whether it's to fill positions due to a retiring workforce or add new positions because of expansion, there is a definite need among companies. In addition, technology and automation have revolutionized the industry and created a sense of urgency for employees to have technical training and expertise to bridge the skills gap.
What is the solution?
Advanced manufacturing companies are turning to registered apprenticeship programs to develop, grow and retain a skilled workforce.
"Apprenticeship is an industry-driven, high-quality career pathway where employers can develop and prepare their future workforce, and individuals can obtain paid work experience, classroom instruction, and a portable, nationally recognized credential," as noted on the United States Department of Labor's apprenticeship.gov website.
Joliet Junior College and Suncast Corporation are partnering through JJC's Registered Apprenticeship program to develop a talent pipeline of skilled workers in advanced manufacturing.
Jim Ahlborn, senior vice president at Suncast Corporation said "We are in a period of dramatic growth right now as a company, with ambitious plans for the next 5-10 years, and we need to strengthen our bench with talented people who can help get us there."
Apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job learning with related instruction in technical areas to produce qualified, highly skilled employees for careers that require precision skills. Suncast Corporation's areas of focus include automation technician (industrial maintenance mechanic), AutoCAD technician, and injection molding set up technician (injection molding machine operator).
Suncast Corporation is a privately held designer, manufacturer and distributor of consumer and commercial products for the home and industrial markets. Suncast continues to be a leader in the design and manufacture of high-quality resin products, and the Suncast brand is the market share leader in hose reels, outdoor storage and snow tools.
The Batavia-based company also recently signed their first apprentice. Alexis Travis will work as an automation maintenance technician as part of her on-the-job learning while also taking classes at JJC for the related technical instruction.
Mark Kimmey, automation maintenance assistant manager at Suncast Corporation explained that Alexis will be working on the automated equipment that assembles hose reels and shovels as well as learning about the safety circuits and the sequencing of the fixtures.
Establishing an apprenticeship program is also an important step toward increasing interest among the future workforce.
"The whole industry is starving for members that want to pursue a career in manufacturing. The field of automation and maintenance is an important role in keeping manufacturing strong in the U.S. It is important for us to continue to support programs that promote manufacturing as a good career path for our young adults or those interested in making a career change and learning a new skill," Kimmey said.
JJC is the sponsor of a registered apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor with industry-approved occupations representing industry sectors in: advanced manufacturing, culinary arts/hospitality, horticulture/landscaping, transportation/logistics and health care.
Amy Murphy, dean, applied arts, workforce education & training at JJC said: "We're excited for the opportunity to partner with Suncast Corporation on this important initiative.
"A registered apprenticeship program really is a win-win situation because it provides a company with a valuable workforce solution and offers the apprentice an on-ramp to a rewarding career pathway."
• Melissa Lachcik is continuing education development coordinator at Joliet Junior College.