Where Manufacturing Matters

An Apprenticeship Turned my Manufacturing ‘Job’ into a Career

Posted by Gary Weldon on Jun 23, 2015 3:20:38 PM

I had been working as a machinist for less than two years and I was ready to quit. Not only quit my job, but get out of manufacturing altogether. Since entering the trade on my 18th birthday I had worked at two shops. I’d progressed from doing just simple, menial tasks (like taking out the trash) to being a fairly proficient lathe operator. I had learned some valuable skills and my wages were slowly starting to grow. The problem was that I didn’t have a clear plan for my working future.

All I had was a job.


A change of direction

I had recently met the beautiful young woman who would later become my wife and I realized that if we were to have any kind of positive future, something would need to change. I enrolled in the local community college (on my own dime) and began taking classes after work. I was thinking that maybe I could take my mechanical aptitude and apply it to the field of engineering. But because I was working over fifty hours a week, I was only able to take a class or two at a time. And at that pace it was going to take me about ten years just to complete an associates degree (Ugh!). Not exactly the timetable I was hoping for.

Thankfully, a chance conversation changed my direction. One night I was talking with a friend of a friend. He asked my what I did (for work) and I told him I was a machinist. He said that the manufacturing company he worked for was hiring and wondered if I’d be interested in checking it out. When I learned that the company was over forty-five minutes from my house, I respectfully declined. He didn’t give up. He told me that they had an apprenticeship program that I could likely get into.

Although I had heard the term ‘apprenticeship’ before, I didn’t really know what a program like that was or why I would be interested in it. He went on to explain that they would train me to be a journeyman toolmaker, I’d get regular raises and that they’d pay for me to go to college. That was all I needed to hear. I got the job and soon entered their apprenticeship program.

My manufacturing career had begun.

That was twenty-three years ago. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work in a wide variety of roles including toolmaker, shop foreman, mechanical designer, operations manager, and business developer. I’ve been able to make a great living and, while I never received a four year degree, I’ve had a fair amount college-level training and I’ve gathered a wealth of real-world experience.

When folks talk about developing Ohio’s future manufacturing workforce, the concept of apprenticeships does come up, but in my view, not nearly enough. And that’s unfortunate.

You see, an apprenticeship is more than just a training program – something able to transfer key skills to a new generation – it is a career pathway. It takes the ambiguous “Just show up and work hard and someday you’ll be successful” mindset and gives it specificity. It gives those who are willing to work hard a clear view of what’s achievable and outlines the steps of how they can get there.

It also does something else. Something very powerful. It communicates that a career in manufacturing is something worth investing time and money in. It shows a young apprentice that their company is optimistic about the future and is committed to developing the people that will be essential to its success.

For far too long, working in manufacturing has been considered something that only ‘losers’ – those who don’t have what it takes to become a ‘professional’ – do. That unfortunate (and inaccurate) perception has permeated our culture, been propagated in the classroom and is a key reason young people aren’t considering manufacturing a viable career option (and therefore a big contributor to our current skills gap)

Apprenticeships can help change that

When hundreds (and someday thousands) of manufacturing companies across Ohio are able to show the next generation that they stand ready to provide more than just a job, we’ll soon discover that finding great workers doesn’t have to be this hard.

What do you think? Do you agree that apprenticeships can really make a difference? Share your thoughts in the Comments or on Twitter or Facebook.

This blog was originally posted by Gary Weldon on the popular MADEinOHIO.us/blog. For more on apprenticeships and their potential impact, also check out:

Apprenticeships Help Close the Skills Gap. So Why Are They in Decline?
Skills Gap Bumps Up Against Vocational Taboo
The Solution to the US Skills Gap Isn’t What You Think
Outside Opinion: Apprenticeship programs can close skills gap
Is There Really a Skills Gap?

WIRE-Net’s workforce development department specializes in employment and training. Please contact Michael Hoag, WIRE-Net Vice President of Workforce Development, at 216.920.1958 for more information about our programs.

Topics: Accelerate Cleveland Manufacturing, Workforce, Apprenticeships

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