Originally Posted on Crain’s Detroit

December 20, 2016
By Leslie Green

Whether tool and die, maintenance or other technical professions, traditional high schools no longer teach skilled trades, said Gary Sievert, Human Resources director for Wellington Industries Corp., a Belleville-based auto supplier. This is a problem for employers looking for tradespeople skilled in an array of occupations and for potential employees who can’t afford to attend college.

Thankfully, registered apprenticeships offer a competitive advantage. As the Department of Labor (DOL) escalates funding for apprenticeships, the number and variety of programs across the nation continue to grow. There were 1,898 apprenticeship programs in the U.S. at the end of 2015 up from 1,409 in 2011.

The DOL granted $4 million to the Advance Michigan Center for Apprenticeship Innovation (AMCAI) program in early 2016. Led by the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN) and the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA), AMCAI is comprised of Oakland, St. Clair County and Washtenaw community colleges; Henry Ford and Schoolcraft colleges; Wayne State University; Oakland and Livingston Michigan Works!; Michigan Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs; and Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT).

“Currently, a majority of Michigan apprenticeships are in construction and manufacturing, but new opportunities for apprenticeships could also arise in fast-growing fields like IT and health care,” said WIN Executive Director Lisa Katz. “This would be extremely beneficial in helping Michigan diversify its economy on a long-term basis.”

AMCAI currently serves 68 apprentices in 19 programs in 13 counties. The plan, WIN said, is to increase to 853 apprentices training for in-demand occupations, including:

  • Advanced manufacturing process technician
  • Auto service diagnostic technician
  • Computer aided designer (CAD)/technician
  • Connected mobility
  • Die designer/ maker
  • Industrial plant electrician
  • Machinist
  • Mechatronic technician
  • Metallurgy technician
  • Mold maker
  • Tool & die maker or repair technician
  • Tool designer or tool maker
  • IT generalist
  • IT developer
  • Welder

Within the last five to 10 years, the DOL’s office of apprenticeship has been creating nontraditional apprenticeships for medical assistants, veterinary techs, direct support specialists (group home workers), IT and computer information specialists’ jobs, explained Janene Erne, director of technical programs and apprenticeship at Oakland Community College (OCC) and chair of Michigan Educator’s Apprenticeship and Training Association.

“We want to increase apprenticeships in various trades and occupations, so they’re not just in manufacturing,” added Pamela Linton, apprenticeship coordinator for Schoolcraft College, where Wellington Industries sends its tool and die apprentices. “Manufacturing is an area that is critically in need of an enhanced labor force right now, but the Department of Labor is open to other programs.”

While the electrician program is St. Clair County Community College’s (SC4) most robust apprenticeship program, the school also offers a renewable and alternative energy program that waxes and wanes, said James Williams, occupational and apprenticeship program coordinator. “It’s a program we’ve had for quite a while,” Williams said, “but it runs mostly when the price of oil is high.”

How they work

There are three types of registered apprenticeships: Time-based, competency-based and a hybrid, and they can last anywhere from one to five years, depending on the program.

1. Time-based apprenticeships, the DOL standard, are the tried-and-true method of growing your own skilled worker, Erne said.

To begin, the employer or labor organization determines what trades it needs, what skills its employees/trainees need on the job, and then works with the Department of Labor to determine how many hours they are going to spend teaching those skills. Afterward, the employer works with a school to determine which classes are most appropriate and directly related to the work. This integrates each company’s best practices with industry needs and DOL requirements to create innovative earn-and-learn models.

“There are more than 1,000 trades nationally,” Erne said. “The employer can come to me and say, I need classes in this, this and this. If OCC offers the classes he needs, he can do an apprenticeship here.” Typical apprenticeship programs at OCC include electrical, tool and die, machining and mechatronics. Oakland also has offered direct support specialist apprenticeships in the past.

Subject matter experts at Schoolcraft College work with employers to determine related trade instruction, said Linton. The school offers welding, plastics, CNC (computer numerical control) machinist, mechatronics and metallurgy apprenticeships, along with those in most manufacturing trades, and is producing workers skilled as CAD operators, model makers, mold makers and setters, millwrights and more.

After employers and their partner college determine courses, Linton said the school connects the employer with a DOL representative and the employer hires an apprentice or puts a current employee in the program.
Most time-based apprenticeships require 8,000 hours of on-the-job training, Erne said. When finished with the on-the-job training and related technical classes, the employee has earned college credit, usually enough for an associate degree, and receives a DOL-issued certificate of completion that is recognized nationwide and often in Canada and Mexico.

2. Competency-based apprenticeships are similar to the time-based apprenticeship but end when the employee is determined competent in certain tasks.

3. Hybrid apprenticeships combine the time-based and competency models. For the hybrid model, an apprentice must demonstrate a defined competency within a specified time range; for example, they may have 500 to 1,000 hours to demonstrate competency on a specific machine. This style of apprenticeship allows for more of a customized approach to apprenticeship training.

Additional apprenticeship programs

Michigan Apprenticeship Program Plus (MAP+), a partnership between Macomb Community College and Grand Rapids Community College, the City of Grand Rapids, MIWorks! Macomb/St. Clair, Kent Career Tech Center, Atlas Tool Inc., Formtech, and others, is using a $3.9 million DOL grant to develop apprenticeship pathways beginning in high school. These would allow students to get apprenticeship training and attain their associates degrees. Apprenticeships are focused on IT and advanced manufacturing, including digital sculpting. The program is expected to serve 600 apprentices.

Focus: HOPE American Apprenticeship Programs received $3 million in DOL funding to expand its industrial design, engineering technician and quality engineer apprenticeship programs and develop apprenticeships for occupations as a network technology administrator, CNC machinist, controls technician and prototype technician. The program is expected to serve 300 apprentices.

The UAW International Skilled Trades Department program received a $15 million grant from the DOL. The occupations normally include electrician, tool and die, pipefitter machine repair, welder fixture repair, millwright, metal and wood model makers, etc., the UAW said. The time-based program requires 8,000 hours on-the-job training and a minimum of 576 hours of related instruction at Macomb and Oakland community college and Henry Ford College. This program has more than 45 apprenticeship programs in Michigan in addition to those at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and FCA plants.

For the Michigan Advance Technician Training (MAT2) apprenticeship program, students have the same curriculum and testing requirements for each profession, regardless of the employer. The program works in eight-week cycles where an apprentice rotates between his or her employer and school. In the first year, there are four school rotations and two work rotations, explained Sophie Stepke, training manager at ZF North America Inc. in Northville and chair of the MAT2 strategic steering committee.

Students have three school rotations and three work rotations the second year and two school rotations and four work rotations the third. MAT2 companies can choose the best apprenticeship training method for their company. Because MAT2 is built around competency-based education, any registered MAT2 apprenticeship uses a competency-based program.

As a parent and educator, Erne praises apprenticeship programs because employers provide tuition reimbursement while also paying an hourly wage.

“An apprenticeship is every parent’s dream,” she said, “because instead of coming out of school with obscene college debt, you often come out with money in the bank and, at most, minimal debt.”

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