Charlotte, N.C. — The mold making sector in the United States has an aging workforce — more than half its workers are over 45 years old.
But at Pfaff Molds LP in Charlotte, the average age is 33.
President Troy DeVlieger credits an apprenticeship program for the influx of youth.
Ten of the company's 35 employees are active apprentices, recently out of high school. Others in the injection tooling factory are 20-something recent graduates of the four-year apprenticeship program.
"One of the things we saw is that in order to develop sustainability for the company, we really needed to go with youth and grow from the ground up," DeVlieger said.
Plastics News recently spent two days visiting three North Carolina plastics companies that are part of a growing program of manufacturing apprenticeships in that state.
As part of a three-part series, we spoke with about a dozen current and recent apprentice graduates to get a picture of how they see the programs.
The big draw, not surprisingly, is a job right out of high school that offers a career path and the promise of decent pay, and free tuition toward a two-year associate degree.
A program around Greensboro, N.C., for example, starts at about $9 an hour the first year, rising to $13.50 in the fourth year. A program in Charlotte has a minimum salary of $36,000 after graduation. Across the state, college tuition for the coursework is paid for by the company or the government.
Participating companies guarantee jobs to apprentices who complete the program, although not all students choose to work with the companies they apprenticed with.
There are no contracts — students are free to leave at any time during the program or after without owing money to the company or the government.
Company executives say they want students to choose to work for them. That also creates an incentive to make the work environment as attractive as possible, DeVlieger said.
"It's really upon us to provide that working environment and also the salary base, the pay base, that they don't want to go anywhere else," he said.