By James Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media
Employers have been pleased – but not surprised – with the work done by new hires brought in through apprenticeships or experiential training programs. In part, they knew what education the prospective employees would receive: The hands-on approach to training includes the employer’s involvement in curriculum development.Sophie Stepke, training manager in the Northville office of German-based auto supplier ZF North America, said the company’s participation in the Michigan Advanced Technology Training (MAT2) workforce development initiative includes an active role in determining course requirements.“We have a lot of say when the programs get developed,” Stepke said. “The school is sitting at the same table, and there’s a constant feedback process going on.”

ZF currently has student-trainees enrolled in product design, electronic technician and IT technician courses. Student trainees balance classroom time at Oakland Community College with in-the-shop experience using the latest technology, systems and equipment.

Stepke said that the education extends beyond the specific tools of the trade.

“The students get motivated in the work environment,” Stepke said. “They meet people in the company and get to know and understand the culture. They bring all of that to the table when they’re hired in, and that’s a big asset.”

Direct involvement ensured the program would benefit both student and employer, said Thomas Bauman, general manager of Bingham Farms-based Orbitak International LLC, which helped craft curriculum for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. when MAT2 was launched.

“It’s a true education system that makes sure the requirements are provided,” Bauman said. “From day one they’re employed by the company and can go to school and get an education while contributing back to the company. It’s definitely a partnership program.”

The model has proven effective in fields beyond manufacturing.

Four students from last fall’s MAT2 program have already been productive at Secure 24, said Matthew Goodrich, the Southfield-based IT-hosting company’s Integrated Operations Center continuous improvement manager.

“What we’ve seen from them is a higher passion and desire to learn and grow,” Goodrich said. “They’re new to the workforce – for many it’s their first job – and the advantage is they don’t have any bad habits.”

Goodrich said the current program echoes previous teaching methods used by the company, one that begins with fundamental skills and, through internal training and certification, expands the worker’s skill set to better meet specific needs. Entry-level workers have, he said, a head start when they begin full-time employment.

“By partnering with a community college, we’re able to start them at a lower level and give them direct education and train them up,” Goodrich said. “What I expect is they’ll accelerate faster than existing employees.”

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