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Training & Education

Knowledge bank

By Lauren Duensing

December 2019 - Apprenticeship programs help businesses thrive by building a highly skilled, highly productive workforce, and they help job seekers find and maintain stable careers with good wages, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The DOL says that  “by using apprenticeship as a work-based learning strategy, the workforce system can increase worker skills, meet employer needs and enhance performance outcomes.”

“An apprenticeship is a unique and rewarding journey because of the relationship between the apprentice and his or her mentor,” says Stan Brant, COO of JW Aluminum, which kicked off its own apprenticeship program in January 2019. “And the mentor isn’t the only person on the team who is a teacher. We all learn from each other as part of this program and as a part of the JW Aluminum team overall. Our teammates on the shop floor are closest to the equipment and the work, and, frankly, they are the subject matter experts. Who better to learn from than an experienced subject matter expert?”

In-demand skills

The flat-rolled aluminum producer’s program includes classroom instruction and on-the-job training. The two-year program allows employees to earn the nationally recognized journey worker credential while earning competitive wages and receiving incremental raises as they advance through the program.

“We decided to launch our apprenticeship program because a key tenet of our corporate vision and culture strategy is developing our people,” Brant says. “We know our people are our greatest asset, and we simply would not be where we are today without the very best teammates in our industry.”

Brant says the JW Aluminum Registered Apprenticeship program is made up of both young and experienced employees. “The application process starts with teammates discussing their interest in the program with their supervisor and an interview with a human resources manager,” he continues. “Teammates who are successful in the interview process then take an entrance examination administered by the local technical college. We are offering the program in all four of our locations.

“The results of the entrance exam don’t necessarily disqualify a teammate from the program, but his or her performance on the exam may result in the need to take additional classes to complete the program.”

Apprentices commit to two years and 2,000 hours per year of on-the-job training under the guidance of a certified journeyman or journey worker mentor and a minimum of 144 hours of external training at a partner college. Apprentices attend classes at local technical schools in the evenings or other outside-of-work hours.

“Some classes may be eligible to earn college credits toward an associate’s degree, JW Aluminum covers all tuition costs, books and fees, and we allow payroll deductions so apprentices can use the approved tools for the program while paying over time,” Brant notes.

Leaving a legacy

The average tenure in manufacturing is five years, says Brant. But, “the average tenure at JW Aluminum is more than double that—over 11 years—and we regularly celebrate teammates who have spent 20, 30, even 40 years with the company. There is a certain level of mastery that comes over an extended period of time, as well as the calling to share that expertise with their teammates.”

So far, the program is off to a successful start, with two-thirds of the apprentices making the part-time student dean’s list. Jesse Gaither, who works at JW Aluminum’s St. Louis plant and is participating with the first group of apprentices, says that “school is going well for all of us at Southwestern Illinois Community College. The on-the-job training could not possibly be any better, and the wealth of knowledge that the mentors are providing and passing down is priceless.”

Aluminum is an essential metal used in so many facets of our everyday lives, according to Brant. “This is not an industry any of us want to see exported out of this country. We’re firm believers in making things here in America. To continue to do that, we must provide and encourage the educational pathways to support all types of domestic manufacturing.” FFJ

Sources

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