Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA)

An Apprenticeship Program is Filling the Talent Pipeline for Local Industries

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In 2013, Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC) students were hearing a common theme from the local industry: You have excellent knowledge and skills, but lack industry experience. Come back after you have some experience.

This resulted in the addition of work experience requirements in every manufacturing/industrial degree program. The work experience could be paid or unpaid but must result in a minimum of 15 hours per week for one semester in the student’s field of study. A few employers were willing to give students an opportunity in hopes that they could attract them after graduation.

Employers quickly found that students were contributing to the company and giving them a return on investment. As employers found value in these students, co-ops transitioned from mostly unpaid to paid and additional employers came on board.

Soon thereafter, a Siemens production manager moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he had participated in the Apprenticeship 2000 partnership to the company’s facility in Fort Payne, Alabama. Like a number of other local companies, the Siemens facility in Fort Payne had a critical need for machinists but could not justify the overhead for an apprenticeship program of their own.

This led to the establishment of the Tri-State Apprenticeship Consortium. Under this model, the consortium is considered the program sponsor. The consortium is industry-led, with industry determining curriculum, selecting students, and steering the direction of the program. Once a company selects an apprentice, they pay his/her wages and college expenses. The college provides an employee to assist in the coordination of the program and the consortium.

The U.S. Department of Labor approved the consortium’s first apprenticeship program in machining on October 1, 2014. Signing day was held later that month with six students signing with five companies. Apprentices work approximately 30 hours per week and attend college approximately 10 hours per week. Over four years the student earns an Associate in Applied Science degree, multiple industry certifications, and a journey worker card.

Best of all, they graduate the program with no student loan debt and with four years of experience in a manufacturing setting. The apprenticeship company has the first option to hire a graduate. If no opening exists at the time, a student may take their credentials and experience to the open market.

Additional occupations have been added and more companies have joined the consortium. A youth apprenticeship program started in 2018, integrating high school students in a program that seamlessly transitions into the Registered Apprenticeship program. This industry and education partnership continue to create a pipeline of skilled tradespeople for local industries.

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