A Michigan mold maker is participating in a revamped public-private apprenticeship program that recruits high school students with the promise of a paying job and the option of going on to a four-year degree. For the past two years, M.C. Molds Inc. of Williamston, Mich., has participated in the Capital Area Apprenticeship program administered by the Ingham (County) Intermediate School District in Mason, Mich. The largest city in Ingham County is Lansing, home of the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors Corp.
M.C. Molds, a maker of extrusion blow molds that employs 40, hopes the program will help it overcome an extremely tight, skilled-labor market in the mid-Michigan area. For example, the company has been advertising for the past five weeks for a manual lathe hand, which pays from $8-$12 an hour, depending on experience. But the job has gone begging.
In the critical area of mold making, M.C. Molds recruited two apprentices this year and would like to add a couple of more each year to ensure a ``continuing supply of new blood,'' general manager Al Schulien said.
``Now we have the beginning of a pipeline to get these people in here,'' he said.
M.C. Molds President Robert Palazzolo said the apprenticeship program ``has been a big help to us and we expect it will be an even bigger help in the future.''
Besides M.C. Molds, the program involves 10 other companies involved in metalworking and another 15 in the auto maintenance, construction, electronics and food-service industries.
Bekum America Corp., also based in Williamston, has hired two apprentices through the program and this year recruited two more. The maker of blow molding machinery is training the apprentices in the mechanical and electrical trades.
``A program like this is absolutely necessary to stay competitive,'' said Alfred Obermueller, production manager for Bekum. ``It's a long time overdue.''
The program focuses on high school students, rather than younger adults who have entered the job market.
Apprenticeships begin the summer before a student's senior year of high school. Apprentices attend regular classes in the morning and then go to a countywide vocational facility in the afternoon. Apprentices also may work part time at their sponsoring company and during school holidays.
The hourly wage for mold-making journeymen in the Lansing area is about $12-$14 per hour, Schulien said. Apprentices new to the program start at 50 percent of the rate and work up gradually.
Apprentices are required to complete 8,000 hours of toolmaking experience in the shop, and nearly 1,000 hours more of a related curriculum at a local community college. The community college instruction is nearly enough for a two-year associate's degree.
The benefit of college credit is attractive to some students - and their parents - because it leaves open the option to go on for a four-year degree in, for example, engineering. And, by giving apprentices a choice of continuing their education at four- year colleges, sponsoring companies hope to offer enough flexibility so students and their parents won't feel trapped into a vocational path.
Schulien is encouraged by the early results of the program.
``This program is not going to pay off today or tomorrow,'' Schulien said. ``It will be next year and the year after that.''