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Panelists say apprenticeships are the future of workforce development

Staff //November 14, 2019//

Panelists say apprenticeships are the future of workforce development

Staff //November 14, 2019//

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South Carolina is the national leader in registered apprenticeship programs, with more than 1,000 registered programs in the state, according to Amy Firestone, vice president of apprenticeship for the S.C. Technical College System.

Thirty percent of the registered apprenticeship programs in the state are in manufacturing, she said during the panel discussion “Apprenticeships in Advanced Manufacturing: Training A Competitive Workforce” at the S.C. Manufacturing Conference and Expo in North Charleston.

In addition to the growing Apprenticeship Carolina program, the state also has its Youth Apprenticeship initiative, which boasts 220 programs across the state.

“We understand manufacturing has greatly utilized this program because they have seen results,” Firestone said. “And we have done studies that show return on investment is $1.24 for every $1 a manufacturing company or any other company invests in an apprenticeship program. Not only do you have a qualified workforce but you see results at your company.”

Panelists from Michelin North AmericaZeus Industrial ProductsBP Americas Cooper River site and VTL Groupdiscussed their experiences with apprenticeship programs and offered advice to companies seeking to do the same.

Robin Blackburn, technical wage recruiter with Michelin North America, said “make sure you have a very clear, laid out career pathway that the student can understand, so they know that there is a result they are working toward.”

For 30 years Michelin has operated its tech scholar program, which “was implemented to support what we saw over 30 years ago as a need to support our maintenance technician positions,” Blackburn said. “But just having a tech scholar program in place was not enough to fill the need we have for maintenance positions.”

Blackburn said Michelin met with Carla Whitlock from Apprenticeship Carolina in 2017, to start laying the groundwork for a registered apprenticeship program at Michelin’s facilities.

Martin Greenlee, corporate director of organizational development for Zeus Industrial Products, said his company saw the need for more skilled workers when it opened a 148,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

“We were wondering how we were going to fill it from a technical standpoint,” he said. “We also had just expanded our engineering facility in Orangeburg.”

Daryl Johnson, with BP Americas Cooper River site, said his company’s relationship with Apprenticeship Carolina began more than 10 years ago.

“They were extremely helpful in getting our first three apprenticeships registered,” he said. “The help and resources they gave us made it very easy.”

Johnson said, “Of the 200 employees we have, over 60 have either completed one of our registered apprenticeship programs or are currently enrolled in one of those programs.”

Johnson does not hesitate when it comes to promoting the Apprenticeship Carolina program to other companies.

“If you don’t already have an apprenticeship program at your facility, explore that option with Apprenticeship Carolina,” he said. “If you’re a manufacturer and you already have an established training program, you could be a lot closer than you realize to being able to register that program.

“Just do it,” he said.

Vincent Lombardy, production manager for VTL Group, said it used be relatively easy to find a workforce.

“But as we’ve expanded over the years, we’ve found it more difficult given our current climate with the labor market to pull in skilled workers. So apprenticeships have been a good fit for us,” Lombardy said.

He said VTL Group started with the youth apprenticeship program as one of the original six partners that formed with the Charleston Youth Apprenticeship Program.

“In 2015 we had one youth apprenticeship program registered and we had one adult apprenticeship program registered,” he said. “Today we have six programs — three youth and three adult — focused on maintenance, manufacturing engineering, quality engineering and operations, and we have nine registered apprentices going through the program.

“If you’re a manufacturer in this region, or in the state, or if you’re in any other industry that has a shortage of skilled workers, apprenticeships should be a part of your recruitment strategy,” Lombardy said.