Playing on the Heavy Metal theme of attracting young people to manufacturing, we turn to Greensboro, N.C. — and an impressive new county-wide apprenticeship program for high school students.
One main goal of this blog is to let readers share ideas on how to recruit the next generation of skilled plastics workers.
Apprenticeships — blending training in the classroom and on the factory floor — used to be common in the United States, especially in the tool and die industry. And, of course, Germany and Austria have long-standing apprenticeship programs. In America, we are not going to copy these European leaders, and we shouldn't even try.
In the United States, the answer is coming in localized efforts, driven by local industry leaders.
Now in the Greensboro area in Guilford County, N.C., six manufacturing companies — including two plastics processors, Bright Plastics and TE Connectivity — have spearheaded a modern-day apprenticeship program.
Todd Poteat, Bright Plastics' vice president of manufacturing, said the six member companies that make up the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners are a diverse cross-section of U.S. manufacturing. They have one thing in common: How to find good young employees, to replace older workers who are going to retire all too soon.
“That was our basic need. That brought us together,” Poteat said. “All the industries need highly skilled hourly positions and we just can't find them. We're not going to be able to find enough people to keep up.”
Area manufacturing companies already were meeting quarterly, through the Greensboro Partnership for Economic Development. They hashed out common problems, and the skilled worker shortage quickly rose to the top. Poteat said that a year ago, discussions started in earnest to create the apprenticeship.
They approached Guilford Technical Community College, and officials of the school were responsive, Poteat said.
Bright Plastics is a custom injection molder in Greensboro. TE Connectivity has a plant making automotive connectors, and runs a major moldmaking operation in the area.
The apprenticeship program targets high school students at seven schools in the Greensboro area. Guilford Apprentice Partners, or GAP, is sponsored by the Triad Workforce Solutions Collaborative and the Greensboro Partnership. Poteat is Bright Plastics' liaison with GAP.
Students picked for the program get 1,600 hours of classroom training and 6,400 hours of supervised, on-the-job training. Each student who successfully completes the apprenticeship gets an associate's degree in manufacturing technology from Guilford Technical Community College.
And just as importantly, the local companies get a good crop of trained, motivated young employees.
But getting into the program is not a cakewalk. You have to be at least a high school senior for the first year of the apprenticeship, with a minimum grade point average of 2.5, a teacher recommendation and parental approval.