Apprenticeships fueling the talent pipline

Earlier this month, Governor Larry Hogan named May as Apprenticeship Career Pathways Month in Maryland. And just last week, Maryland introduced five new apprenticeship programs in the state. “Maryland’s apprenticeship program is growing. We’re creating more opportunities for workers in a variety of occupations, and for youth looking to get a head start on their careers,” said Acting Labor Secretary James E. Rzepkowski.

At the Maryland Chamber of Commerce we are supportive of quality opportunities that will help fuel the talent pipeline and bring the workforce to the next level to keep up with demanding changes across all industries. To aid in these efforts, the Maryland Chamber Foundation is set to launch its Teacher Externship Pilot program in July 2019 with four Maryland manufacturers, Dixon Valve, Volvo Group Trucks, Stanley Black & Decker, and Toroid Corporation. For some, the pilot is a natural extension of apprenticeship programs and another way to expose their organizations to potential future employees or apprentices through teachers.

Dixon Valve started their apprenticeship program back in the 1980’s, which just recently underwent a change in structure. “We moved away from what would be considered a traditional apprenticeship program, which you would typically think of an electrician, carpenter, plumber,” said Dan Lessard, Assistant V.P. of Human Resources – Training & Safety at Dixon Valve. “In 2015, we started to work with MD MEP [Maryland Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program], started to work with a consultant and put together a steering committee of our best and brightest and started to identify those things that were necessary to make a successful machinist.”

The landscape of the workforce is changing. Technologies are more advanced, and we need a workforce in Maryland that reflects that. Dixon Valve restructured their apprenticeship program and made it a competency based apprenticeship to produce the talent needed for today’s environment. Launched in 2017, the new program requires 144 hours per year of online learning and is broken up into three levels, of which all employees take the training for level one. If accepted into the apprenticeship, apprentices start at level two, focused on setting up machinery. Level three brings apprenticeships to the machinist level, versus machine operator. Upon completion of the apprenticeship, after 18 months to two years, apprentices become journeymen and can sit for the appropriate test to be nationally recognized.

Similar to how Dixon Valve’s apprentices are chosen from within, Volvo Group Trucks gives priority to those already working with the manufacturer in Hagerstown, MD. Jacob Bowman, Human Resources Partner at Volvo, knows how tough it can be to find workers for a specific skill set. “It’s very difficult to find skilled electricians within industrial environments as well as mechanics. Especially ones in an industry like ours that are highly automated. We have a lot of robotics, a lot of new technologies that may be new to even a majority of the workforce that’s out there, so we see a benefit of growing the confidence from within,” he says.

Volvo offers apprenticeships for industrial mechanics and industrial electricians. Recently they switched from a four-year to a five-year program because the demands of technology require more time. But it is well worth it since the skilled trades area currently has 70 to 80 employees with an average age of 55 at Volvo. Within the next 10 years, over half will be eligible for retirement. They started these apprenticeships to keep up with talent pipeline demands and keep up with the needs of the industry.

Dixon Valve and Volvo are just two manufacturers among many within the state offering apprenticeships. While neither currently have active youth apprenticeships, they are moving towards that goal. The importance of training students and individuals in their youth is not lost on either organization.

Apprenticeships help to continue moving Maryland forward. Education comes in many forms, and for those wishing to seek a career in manufacturing and even beyond, apprenticeships are a surefire way to jump start a lifelong career in varying industries within Maryland.


To learn more the Maryland Chamber Foundation Teacher Externship Pilot program, click here.

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