Training Apprentices

 Training Apprentices Requires New Methods; Part I

By Clare Goldsberry
Published: November 8th, 2011

When John Sergot began his apprenticeship training in the late 1970s, it required five years and 10,000 hours (eight hours per day, five days per week) on the job. Some larger shops trained their apprentices by rotating them in 6-month shifts, with 6 months running a drill press then shift to 6 months running a milling machine, etc. The shop where Sergot worked started him out with blueprint reading and laying out locations of holes that needed to be drilled. The shop foreman would check the work to approve it before the apprentice was instructed on how to drill a hole.

Each Apprentice at Industrial Mold & Machine (Twinsurg, OH) is given an iPad to help them negotiate the company’s cloud-based internal social network and review training materials.

As the worker progressed, he was allowed to take on more responsibility by not requiring shop foreman approval on every step. If the shop foreman felt the worker grasped the function of the drill press, he introduced the worker to the next piece of equipment. There was no set time period or level of experience before progressing to the next level. The apprentice was introduced to new equipment based on the needs of the shop at the time. By the third year, students were into advanced tool design.

“It’s important to note that all of the classes in related theory did not include training in using the metric system in manufacturing,” he said. Sergot has seen the apprentice move from paper blueprints and solving problems long-hand to using calculators, computers, and CNC machining centers. Yet, he adds, “According to the websites of various industry trade associations like the AMBA and TMA, the system is basically unchanged. I believe this is a mistake, perhaps not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well. As anyone in the trade can tell you, if you can perform a tool making job with a high level of expertise you can find work virtually anywhere in the world.”

With the problems of finding skilled employees looming large in an industry in which the average age is somewhere nearing 50, most mold company owners have taken it upon themselves to develop apprenticeship programs that match the skills they need with the interests and abilities of today’s younger generation.

An iPad with your apprenticeship

Industrial Mold & Machine , a mold manufacturer in Twinsburg, OH, is doing some unique things to attract, train and retain a younger workforce. The company’s apprenticeship program is fast-paced and geared toward the social media generation. According to Wendy Wloszek, President, the company recently hired an apprenticeship facilitator, Meredith Crock, to oversee this program. “She’s currently going through the program herself to get a better understanding of what mold manufacturing is about,” says Wloszek.

Each apprentice spends 1-4 weeks in all the functional areas of mold manufacturing including CNC, EDM, mold polishing, mold design and mold assembly. Then based on the interest and skill sets of that apprentice, they got to a specific area such as EDM or CNC to learn that operation in a “deeper way” for a period of about 6 months.

Each apprentice is given an iPad so they can navigate the company’s internal social network, which is cloud-based. “The iPads are the delivery device for all the information about the company, the industry jargon, understanding molds and materials,” says Wloszek. “Meredith is our miner – she mines the company for information to build more training programs. For example, she developed a page about heat treated materials. The apprentices can get into our social network and can look up heat treating. We’ve included a lot of videos so they can see what the various processes are and how they are done.”

Identifying with that next generation workforce and learning to operate in their world is critical to the success of attracting, training and then retaining younger workers. “This is their world,” emphasizes Wloszek, explaining that previous apprentice candidates were teamed up with a journeyman mold maker 40 years older, “and these younger people got bored out of their minds. I told management that we’re not hiring any more young people until we find a way to train them in their way.”

Currently, Industrial Mold & Machine has nine apprentices out of a total workforce of 41. “Taking someone doing this for a long time – at first it was really hard – the experienced guys didn’t even know what to say or how to teach the young kids. Meredith is the translator. We had problem filling positions and this is our way of battling it.”

Sergot agrees. “The jobs of the future will come from technological advances we see in today’s world,” he says. “It has been feared in the past that new technology will eventually eliminate jobs and create widespread unemployment. Economists have seen this is not true. New technologies typically create far more jobs than they destroy. The new jobs are created at various skill levels, which is why our skilled workforce must continue to learn how to change. In a sense, they must look at their jobs with a sense of metamorphosis. We must take advantage of new opportunities presented by change and be willing to take the steps necessary to maintain a globally competitive edge.”