On Apprenticeships: Fixing America’s Manufacturing Skills Gap

On Apprenticeships: Fixing America’s Manufacturing Skills Gap

Engineer Students Learn to Use Computerized Lathe

Seventy-eight percent of manufacturers cite a lack of qualified candidates as a top factor impacting their ability to hire a skilled workforce, according to SME.

With such a large percentage of companies facing the same challenge, it’s time to follow the lead of other exemplary businesses who are fixing the issue through apprenticeship programs. And often times, these companies are following a national approach, rooted in European countries that lead the way with long-standing and effective programs.

Larger companies have mirrored this approach and found great success. One of the best case studies in our industry is Stihl in Virginia Beach, VA. The company has a competitive program with up to 4 years of training that meets state requirements for registered apprenticeships. Through this program, Stihl trains its own skilled workforce.

In Stihl’s case, the German national program is the framework around which the apprenticeship is planned and executed, and each company location follows the same formula in regard to classes and OTJ training. A Stihl apprenticeship is highly prized, and the application process is quite rigorous. Students are clamoring to get into the program.

But what is small company to do?

After realizing no such program was in place, PMT’s founder Charles E. Sholtis engineered his own plastics-specific apprenticeship program in Connecticut in the early 1990s. At that time, PMT was doing business in Europe with a joint venture, so he was able to see firsthand how apprentices were trained.

This head start was instrumental in setting up the apprenticeship formula. Sholtis found a training facility in a local technical school, and worked closely with the Connecticut chapter of the Society for Plastic Engineers (SPE). They purchased a molding machine for the students, and PMT donated old molds and materials. From there, Sholtis hired people into the apprenticeship.

“I wrote the curriculum, selected the courses and submitted it to the Labor Department in Hartford, CT,” Sholtis said.

He developed three pillars for training: Paulson video training courses for injection molding; On-the-Job training with a mentor; and community college courses.

“After two years of training at PMT, students graduated at a ceremony by the Labor Department and Connecticut Apprenticeship Council, and awarded a certificate,” Sholtis said.

PMT had a successful program in Connecticut for several years. One of the company’s first apprentices is still working at PMT—25 years later, he is now the head of the Maintenance Engineering department.

PMT’s apprenticeship program paused when the company relocated to Texas in 2004. This year, PMT is reinventing the program and launching it anew for the needs of skilled manufacturing workers today. We’ve now officially registered one program with the State of Texas—Mechatronics Technician—and we have 3 more in the works.

We look forward to doing our part to ensure we have a skilled workforce in our region. We hope other companies will follow this path. As an American small business, we also hope to see a standardized and exemplary American national apprenticeship program.

PMT’s founder Charles E. Sholtis will speak on apprenticeships and training the next generation of our workforce on Tuesday, March 6, during a panel discussion at Plastics News’ 2018 Executive Forum. The special panel, called “Preparing Today’s Workforce for Tomorrow”, will be moderated by Laurie Harbour, president & CEO of Harbour Results.