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Apprentice program fills skills gap in manufacturing

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High school and college students are getting real world experience and hands-on training through an apprentice program at TDC Cutting Tools/Greenfield Industries, located just outside of Clemson in Oconee County.

Anthony Tosti, the company’s managing director and CFO, said a shortage of skilled workers makes apprentice programs necessary.

Greenfield apprentice Danielle Queen handles accounts payable and accounts receivable for the company. (Photo/Teresa Cutlip)“In general what we’ve seen here, as well as in places where I’ve worked previously, is there’s been a shortage of skilled technicians in the labor force,” he said. “The demand is high, especially with a lot of manufacturing coming back from overseas — from China, back to the U.S. — the gap really needs to be filled and a lot of the training has been missing, especially for running the more high-tech machines.”

Tosti said the manufacturer has been working with the Hamilton Career Center, which is part of the Oconee County school system, as well as Tri-County Technical College, to help develop skilled workers for the future.

“We currently have a very skilled group of people who have been working in the company, but they’re getting close to retirement,” he said, adding that the average employee age prior to starting the apprentice program about 2 1/2 years ago was 48 and now is around 45.

“A lot of the people who are really skilled will be retiring from the company in the next five to seven years, and we want to transfer that knowledge to people coming out of high school or college and provide them with state-of-the-art training here locally so they can work into the workforce,” Tosti said.

Richard Parker, program director for the Center for Workforce Excellence at Tri-County Tech, agrees there is a lot of “aging out” in manufacturing.

“Baby boomers are retiring, but not only that, technology is advancing so rapidly,” he said. “It’s hard for 40-year-olds to keep current. Companies need to keep up with technology. Workers need training to stay current”

Parker said that as manufacturing turns high tech, both current and future workers require the proper training like that offered at the Center for Workforce Excellence.

Kole Lowery’s apprenticeship at Greenfield Industries helped him become certified in three different departments and about a dozen different machines. (Photo/Teresa Cutlip)

Tri-County Tech student Kole Lowery has apprenticed at Greenfield for about 18 months. His work on the manufacturing floor there has helped certify him in three different departments on about a dozen different machines, he said.

Another apprentice, Danielle Queen, from Tamassee Salem, has apprenticed at Greenfield for more than two years. She’s in her last semester at Tri-County Tech where she is studying business management with an emphasis in banking and finance. At Greenfield, she is in charge of accounts payable and account receivable for the company’s work in Canada.

Queen values the experience the apprentice program has given her. “I have completely built a resume at 20 years of age,” she said.

Aubrey Christiano started as an intern at Greenfield in 2014. She became full time in the human resources office at the company in December 2015.

“You can only learn so much in a classroom,” Christiano said. “The classroom is great for learning information out of a textbook, but you know, coming here, I had only had a couple of classes related to what I do and did not even know the extent of what it all entails until I apprenticed here.”

Tosti sees the apprentice program as a “circle of education.” He said what begins as training for 11th and 12th-graders at Greenfield and the Hamilton Career Center then turns into those students going on to college where they get the next level of skills and become solid technicians.

Chad Lusk, director of the Hamilton Career Center in Seneca, said the School District of Oconee County is “very proud of its relationship with Greenfield Industries,” adding that “Greenfield has shown that they understand the value of ‘growing their own’ when it comes to hiring machinists and other skilled positions.”

“They pride themselves in an almost European-style apprenticeship model that takes young local talent and helps nurture these students into becoming top notch employees through a combination of part-time employment and post-secondary training at our local technical colleges,” Lusk said.

The Hamilton Career Center is the career and technology center for the School District of Oconee County. The center aims to create and maintain industry relevant programs that prepare students for highly technical, high paying jobs in Oconee County, Lusk said.

“Our relationship with Greenfield in regards to youth apprenticeships is the model in which have created our new workforce development program that we are calling Now: Nurturing Oconee’s Workforce,” he said.

The school district teamed up with the Oconee Economic Alliance to develop the Now program to ensure students enter the workforce ready and marketable to employers.

The NOW program will started this fall with 30 juniors — 10 students from each high school in the county — Seneca High School, Walhalla High School and West-Oak High School. Participants attend monthly off-campus meetings that address advanced employment skills. They will also be provided opportunities for industry exposure and networking, sometimes one-on-one, with Oconee County’s top manufacturing employers.

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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