As a small- to mid-size company, Auburn Hills-based FTE Automotive had struggled with finding qualified skilled-trade workers. Prospective employees – even those with experience in the field – still needed considerable training to meet the specific demands of the job.
“It was hard to find someone off the street with what we needed,” said Tech Lab Supervisor Harold Snyder. “It’s a very competitive marketplace for technicians and mechanical engineers. These are very specific skill sets.”
In a state well into recovery the skilled-trades job outlook is more competitive than ever, Snyder said the pipeline remains challenged by an aging workforce, with longtime workers likely to retire soon.
On the plus side, some of those openings will benefit from a workforce strategy launched nearly three years ago when FTE was among the companies that participated in the Michigan Advanced Technical Training (MAT2) apprenticeship program.
“We’ve had great success,” Snyder said. “Two students we sponsored have become very productive technicians. It’s a really good selection process.”
The program – a co-op combination of hands-on training in the field with class work en route to an associate’s degree at one of the participating community colleges – has proven itself a viable, time-tested formula. In May 27 student-workers are expected to complete the program first phase, a graduation rate of 87 percent that bodes well as recruitment for students and employers continues for the next phase, set to begin in Fall 2016.
“MAT2 is an opportunity for employers to grow their own talent,” said Stephanie Comai, Director of the Michigan Talent Investment Agency. “And students can combine on-the-job experience with academic lessons while contributing to the company’s bottom line.”
Comai said that recruitment for fall 2016 continues through March 30, with employer information events scheduled in advance of the deadline. Among the most frequently asked questions by curious hiring managers is of the investment needed by companies, which Comai said is a price that has to be paid no matter the training strategy.
“There is a requirement for the employer to cover the costs of training and a stipend,” Comai said. “Those costs are not out of line with what they’d pay to hire someone off the street.”
Nearly 50 companies have already committed to sponsoring more than 130 student-workers enrolled in mechatronics, computer numerical control, information technology and technical product design courses at six participating colleges. The next phase includes the addition of Baker College and Kalamazoo Community College along with founding institutions Delta College and Oakland, Henry Ford and Mott community colleges.
“Employers I’ve spoken to have embraced the apprentice model,” Comai said. “They gain an employee who’s ready to hit the ground running.”
That was the case at FTE Automotive, where Snyder said the introduction of apprentices on the floor took some adjustments in the beginning, but the payoff of employees with both academic credentials and on-site experience has proven itself a worthy investment.
“It’s at a point now where it will be much easier,” Snyder said. “Obviously the education is good, but to be able to pass along practical experience has been very favorable for us. The ground work’s been done and it would be an easy fit for most organizations.”
By James Mitchell