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Training & Education

Seeding talent

By Lauren Duensing

Above: From left, Scott Fosdick, president–head of market region Americas; Jon Carlson, product manager–new technologies; Corey Ocock, GF Machining Solutions’ first U.S. apprentice; and Darlene Regilio, director of human resources.

Swiss machinery builder launches apprenticeship program to harvest a crop of career-minded young engineers

October 2017 - As any employer knows, finding a good employee is tough. And finding a dedicated, hardworking individual with specific qualifications is even tougher. GF Machining Solutions builds machines and provides automation solutions and services to the tool and mold-making industries and to manufacturers of precision components. In the U.S., the Swiss company’s hiring process—“from the moment we list a new position to the time we recruit and train an employee—is roughly six months,” says Jon Carlson, marketing specialist at the company.

To assist with filling technical positions, GFMS rolled out an apprenticeship program at its U.S. headquarters in Lincolnshire, Illinois, that offers paths for applications engineers and field service engineers.

Because many companies are reluctant to hire inexperienced workers, it can be tough for them to obtain the certifications and skills. That’s where apprentices come in. Being a European company, GFMS is familiar with apprentice programs.

“We brought someone here from Switzerland,” Carlson says, “and her job was to get this program up and running.”

GFMS’ three-year apprenticeship program partners with both Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, and the German American Chamber of Commerce. Harper College already had an apprenticeship structure in place. “They had the facilities and the teachers in-house teaching these programs, and they had started to feed the local shops with apprentices,” Carlson says.

Learn and earn

GFMS apprentices will follow a curriculum that combines traditional college academic and technical courses with practical on-the-job experience at GFMS. “The students learn in the classroom and then apply that knowledge here,” Carlson says. “The curriculum that Harper has and [our] curriculum go hand-in hand.”

Guided by experienced mentors, aspiring application engineers will help analyze machine performance and provide technical support, while students who follow the field-service engineering track will learn to coordinate activities around the installation and repair of machining and other manufacturing equipment.

GFMS will pay its apprentices’ tuition and provide an hourly wage plus benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off. When they complete the program, apprentices will receive an associate’s degree from Harper, nationally recognized certifications and an employment opportunity with GFMS.

“We want to make sure that they are comfortable and happy and enjoying what they are doing, first and foremost,” Carlson says. “We also want to make sure that after the apprentice program is over, we will be able to provide some more advanced and specialized training so we can get them being productive as soon as possible.”

Pipeline of qualified workers

Under the program, GFMS also is spreading the word about the benefits of a manufacturing career throughout the community, selecting graduates from high schools in the Chicago metro area.

“I really enjoyed recruiting and talking to students and [conducting] tours at our open house,” Carlson says. “Because the perception is that manufacturing is dirty, but if you walk into our facility, you would not think it’s dirty. Our facility, like many manufacturing facilities today, is very clean and high-tech—everything is CNC. We have guys walking around in lab coats.”

Until they receive further education about manufacturing careers, students often don’t understand how much qualified candidates are needed or how much employers “are willing to pay for their talents.”

Many newly minted high school graduates who sign up for the program aren’t sure what their future holds—if they will attend college, enter the military or continue to live at Mom and Dad’s. Community outreach and awareness gives them a chance to explore career paths.

Although the program is in its infancy, GFMS has a solid plan. “We are hoping to take on four students annually,” Carlson says. “So, after three years of ramping the program up, we could have up to 12 students in our program at one time.”

If this experiment succeeds, the company could expand apprenticeships to its other U.S. locations. “We’d rather train our own students and start to close the skills gap the best way we know how,” Carlson says. FFJ

Sources

  • GF Machining Solutions
    Lincolnshire, Illinois
    phone: 847/913-5300
    www.gfms.com
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