Employers working with state and community colleges to develop talent as baby boomers retire.

This story was originally published on GRBJ.com (the online version of the Grand Rapids Business Journal) on July 6, 2018 and written by Rachel Watson, a staff reporter for the Journal. Click here to be redirected to the original publication of this story on GRBJ.com.

A statewide effort to expand Michigan apprenticeships by 15 percent annually is growing with the addition of 25 training slots in Kalamazoo for the 2018-19 school year.

The apprenticeships — in mechatronics, CNC and machine shop or machine tooling — are part of a 5-year-old advanced manufacturing training partnership among employers, community colleges and the Michigan Talent Investment Agency (TIA) called the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program.

Recently, the MAT2 program was touted by the Michigan Apprenticeship Experience Sooner marketing campaign, which is aligned with Gov. Rick Snyder’s Marshall Plan for Talent and seeks to educate the public about the value of apprenticeships and connect students with opportunities in high-demand fields.

At a news conference last month, numerous collaborators from the public and private sectors gathered at Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Advanced Technology Center to talk about the campaign and announce KVCC is the next education partner for the MAT2 apprenticeship program.

KVCC is the first West Michigan college to join the initiative.

On the employer side, Goshen, Indiana-based Lippert Components and Paderborn, Germany-based Benteler Automotive — both of which have Michigan plants — will offer six and 19 apprenticeship opportunities, respectively, to students in 2018-19 as part of MAT2.

Benteler will allocate seven spots for this fall’s cohort, and 12 for spring 2019.

Lippert will offer three spots in the fall and three in the spring.

MAT2 employers pay tuition for an apprentice’s associate degree and provide on-the-job training with pay. Students who receive their degree and complete the three-year program requirements successfully have a job upon graduation.

Michigan has almost 200 MAT2 students.

More than 50 Michigan employers participate in MAT2, and the education partners thus far include Baker College of Cadillac, Henry Ford Community College-Dearborn, KVCC, Lansing Community College and Oakland Community College.

Benteler Automotive’s apprentices for 2018-19 will gain experience at its facilities in Galesburg, Holland and Grand Rapids.

Duke Moses is manager of Benteler Academy, which oversees apprentices. He said his company looks at the sizable investment in the training and wages of apprentices as a “long-term sustainable approach” to hiring.

“We know already we have a huge wave of attrition that could happen at any point, especially for maintenance workers … because 65 percent of them are eligible for retirement,” he said. “The MAT2 is our methodology we have created to capture the ‘tribal knowledge’ about to go out the door and have not only a well-trained but well-educated individual to take their place.”

The apprenticeship program weaves three strands of knowledge together, Moses said: technical education, equipment training and on-the-job training alongside the veterans.

“It’s quite challenging to work here,” he said. “It’s not like buying a car. You buy a car and figure it out in a few days. That doesn’t happen when there’s a guy walking out the door after 25 years (on the job). Not even in a three-year timeframe will you learn everything, but you can get a good portion and survive.”

He said apprenticeships have to be paired with other approaches in order to keep up with the demand for labor, such as “incumbent training,” or internally upskilling workers.

Moses said the only other way to find workers is to “steal” them from other companies, which can escalate wages.

Stepheni Schlinker, a communications specialist with TIA, said to date, MAT2 employers’ commitment to training the students and paying for their associate degrees represents an investment of almost $13 million.

TIA will dedicate about $1.8 million in state funding to operating the MAT2 program in fiscal year 2018.

This includes employer recruitment; candidate recruitment; training for new companies; marketing support; TIA acting as sponsor for U.S. Department of Labor registered apprenticeships; and TIA administering the MAT2 Employer Training grant, which makes $5,000 reimbursement grants available for employers who register their students with the DOL.

Schlinker said the decision to expand the MAT2 program to a given industry or geographic location is based on “industry demand for the MAT2 training model.”

More than 100,000 advanced manufacturing job openings are anticipated in Michigan through 2024. Average wages for full-time jobs in this sector are $23.37 an hour.

State estimates show there is a need for 15,000 new professional trades workers annually through the next decade, with average annual wages of $51,000, according to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information & Strategic Initiatives.

Michigan has nearly 16,000 active apprentices, according to the DOL. In the past year, Michigan saw 42 new companies register apprenticeship programs, and 2,300 apprentices started programs in various high-demand industries.

Other Kalamazoo-area companies that announced plans for new or expanded apprenticeship programs at last month’s Experience Sooner news conference:

  • Battle Creek-based Grace Health, medical assistant apprenticeship.
  • Springfield-based ROCKET Machining & Design, CNC machinist apprenticeship.
  • Bangor-based Getman Corporation, machine builder, machinist and welder apprenticeships.
  • Ludwigsburg, Germany-based MANN+HUMMEL, maintenance mechanic and mold-maker apprenticeships.
  • Kalamazoo-based Sigma Machine, machinist apprenticeship.
Share On