Skilled labor needed? Use an intern program for automation, controls, instrumentation
Rockford, IL – Welders, fabricators, laser operators, electricians, press brake operators, and machinists are skilled workers reported to be in short supply by manufacturers across the country. Apprenticeship and internship programs can help.
Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) conducted a survey last year that reported their biggest challenge to be the dwindling supply of skilled workers, cited by approximately 40% of those polled. The finding was corroborated by a Manpower Inc. survey on the 10 most difficult jobs to fill. The poll found engineers, machinists, and skilled trade workers are the most challenging positions to fill this year.
One resolution to the shortages and to attract the next generation of workers is the traditional concept of apprenticeship and internship. Their value has never been so significant; young people are exposed to challenging opportunities in manufacturing and employers can recruit, evaluate, and hire needed employees.
Two firms that leverage the strategy are Midwest Metal Products, a precision sheet metal fabrication company in Cedar Rapids, IA, and Begneaud Manufacturing, a precision sheet metal job shop in Lafayette, LA.
Joe Chiaramonte, plant manager at Midwest, has hired high school students for several years through a paid internship program. Last year, he employed two students who worked part time and attended classes in the press brake department at the local trade school, Kirkwood Community College. “Our ultimate goal is to get interns to work for us full time after they complete schooling,” he said. “You can’t beat on-the-job training coupled with classroom training. These students learn valuable skills throughout the year and oftentimes become full-time employees at our plant.” Chiaramonte expects to increase the number of interns to as many as six next year.
Begneaud Manufacturing has a summer internship program for high school and college students, and works in liaison with local schools to create a customized program for each student’s specific area of study. “We typically employ three interns per summer, and past students have participated in a variety of niches at the company, including engineering, industrial technology, IT, marketing, mechanical engineering and even product design,” said Andree Begneaud, co-owner of the company, which offers an internship exchange program. In May, a trade student from France worked on an assigned project to identify international businesses that might be interested in working with the manufacturer.
“Like many in the industry, finding skilled labor and retaining employees are major concerns for our company,” said Begneaud. “We’re always short of welders/fabricators because it’s a constant skill building position, and we also seek workers who operate press brakes, cut with saws, and work with hand tools. We could hire ten people today if they were available. The internship is designed to get more young people interested in working at our company while fulfilling their educational requirements.”
Some employers encourage apprenticeships to encourage prospective employees and young people to enter the field. Others issue signing bonuses and incentives to skilled workers trained in apprenticeship programs. Midwest Metal Products offers an apprenticeship program to as many as three local high school students per year through a program Chiaramonte developed through the Iowa Department of Labor. “The apprenticeship program is another pipeline to our future workforce,” he said. “The mentors provide these students a wealth of knowledge gained over the years and‘hands on’ training in a real world environment.”
Begneaud offers an in–house apprenticeship program to introduce employees to every metalworking process on a rotating basis. Four employees are involved in an apprenticeship and partner with an experienced operator or skilled craftsmen mentor for three months for each specific practice. “This initiative givesindividuals the opportunity to experience all of the processes at our company and instills a well-rounded knowledge of our operation,” said apprentice trainer Mark Faul. “It helps identify the area in which they excel so we can guide them in that direction and then ultimately offer aposition at the company.”
Based on the successful in-house apprenticeship, Begneaud Manufacturing is developing a registered apprenticeship program with the Louisiana Department of Labor. The paid program, to be completed within 2. “Upon successful completion, employees will receive a certificate from the DOL for passing the course, and we will have the first opportunity to employ them.”
Bihm reviewed several current apprenticeship courses and reviewed the National Institute of Metalworking Skills program for guidance in designing the apprenticeship. He submitted a summary of curriculum to Louisiana DOL and will work with a compliance officer this year. “This program will be the first advanced manufacturing apprenticeship in Louisiana and state officials are enthusiastic about our application,” he said. “By establishing a registered program that complements our long standing in-house apprenticeship program, we are creating a win-win for both Louisiana and for Begneaud. We also will be placed on a student-accessible database that lists companies offering apprenticeship programs throughout the country so young people can research our program and apply if interested.”
Education priorities rarely position manufacturing as a preferred career choice. According to a U.S. Department of Labor economic report, “Too few young people consider manufacturing careers and often are unaware of the skills needed in an advanced manufacturing environment. Similarly, the K-12 system neither adequately imparts the necessary skills nor educates students on manufacturing career opportunities.”
“Our biggest challenge is getting high school counselors and principals to realize that manufacturing is a viable option for these students,” Chiaramonte added. “For some reason, manufacturing is not a good buzzword in the schools. At the same time, parents don’t want their kids working in manufacturing environments. Yet, as high school students tour our clean, modern factory, they are thrilled to see the futuristic lasers and robotics.” He believes the industry can improve labor prospects by reaching out to local schools. “If more companies partner with schools and arrange factory visits that lead to apprenticeships and internships, the word will spread. Students don’t come looking for us. We need to reach out and help them realize they can operate the most advanced, sophisticated equipment in the world at a highly competitive wage.”