Five advantages of establishing an apprenticeship program

In the early 2000s, STOBER Drives Inc. of Maysville, Kentucky, faced a problem many American manufacturers are confronted with in rural America today: finding skilled workers and retaining them over time.

There was no pipeline of high school workers or young adults in our area ready to learn the craft of manufacturing gear boxes and motors. But our firm is German-owned, and more than 55 percent of workers graduate from an apprenticeship program in Germany. Our German owners are supportive and encourage people development, so we implemented a STOBER apprenticeship program. Each apprentice is paid full-time wages and benefits while going to school to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

The skilled labor gap nationwide is projected to get worse. By 2020, America will experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 4 million workers with technical certificates and credentials, according to the Center for American Progress.

Luckily, STOBER began working on this initiative more than 10 years ago and has had successes to report. We hired our 27th apprentice this year. Apprentices work 30 hours and attend school 10 hours per week.

It’s a great way to obtain an education and a job without going into debt. Though the average STOBER apprentice age is about 29 years old, we’ve had people in their 40s apply for the program. We retain 85 percent of our apprentices after graduation. Additionally, our growing reputation as a “people developer” has greatly increased our ability to attract top talent.

Here are top five reasons your manufacturing firm should implement an apprenticeship program, in addition to the obvious — providing a steady flow of skilled labor to fill employment needs:

Apprenticeships stimulate economic development. When you do the right things for people in a community, business growth and economic development follow. Managers may become involved in other local and regional workforce development efforts, too, which can lead to government, education and community funds or tax advantages to support your people development efforts; however, industry has to create the demand and lead the effort, because only industry knows what is required.

Apprentices become lifelong learners. Soft skills and habits often need developing in many people who lack a high school diploma, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Coupled with that, there are few, well-paying jobs for those educated and mature workers in rural areas.

So it becomes a chicken-and-egg question. If you reward efforts to attain more education, more employees will sharpen their skills by taking personal development and leadership courses, as well as technical and safety classes, online university human resource classes, OSHA training and much more.

Apprenticeships create leaders within the organization. An apprenticeship program should encourage employees to lead by example. It’s up to each individual to participate or not. Over time, most will, but it’s an ongoing journey. It’s a personal as well as cultural development.

Apprenticeships improve your corporate culture. Giving people the opportunity to grow and develop has had a positive impact on our corporate culture. Employees trust we want the best for them and aspire to become the best version of themselves. People development, wellness, job creation, and other initiatives offered in house inspire more people to participate in the process — and more company loyalty.

Apprenticeships help with worker retention. The youngest and least experienced workers will take on attitudes of older, skilled workers. That’s why manufacturing firms need to think of employees as a community to nurture and educate. If your company provides education and opportunities for employees to excel personally and they know they are financially supported, workers will be happier and stay longer.

Peter Feil is vice president and general manager of STOBER Drives Inc., which specializes in quiet, efficient and durable gearboxes. STOBER is involved in Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), a partnership of regional manufacturers that have implemented apprentice-style training to create a pipeline of highly-skilled workers. It also belongs to Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK), a Kentucky Department of Education pre-apprenticeship program for 11th and 12th graders. For information, visit www.stober.com or contact Feil at (800) 711-3588.