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In search of skilled workers, manufacturers turn to apprenticeship programs

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Nick Herbst, 27, makes a camera bracket for a vision system. The bracket holds a camera that inspects products for conformity.
Nick Herbst, 27, makes a camera bracket for a vision system. The bracket holds a camera that inspects products for conformity. - (Photo / )

There's a difference between a job and a career. And helping young people find the latter might help replenish a declining manufacturing workforce.

Ask 27-year-old Nick Herbst.

For eight years, Herbst painted roads for a pavement-marking company based in York County. A family member introduced him to the trade. And over time, he advanced to a supervisory role and ran a crew of his own.

While work was always available, the hours were irregular and he found himself constantly dodging cars in traffic and trying not to get hit.

After getting married and becoming a parent, the hours and risk were no longer worth the pay. But with a family to help provide for and professional experience in only one area, starting over can be hard.

At the same time, 2 million positions in U.S. manufacturing will likely go unfilled over the next decade due to a lack of skilled workers, said Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturers’ Association of South Central Pennsylvania.

As part of the association’s 2017 annual wage and salary survey, which includes data supplied by 70 companies in the region, the association reported that 43 percent of respondents have experienced difficulty in hiring while 60 percent are looking to add people in the next year.

In hopes of finding the workers they need, some employers are turning to apprenticeships to train people – even those without experience – and help overcome the shortage of skilled workers. While companies are building up their workforce, their employees are building careers.

On track

Nick Herbst is one of almost 40 apprentices from more than 25 companies in a tool-and-die instructional training program operated by the Manufacturers’ Association.

Now two years in at Manchester Township-based New Concept Technology Inc., Herbst is on track to become a certified journeyman tool-and-die maker.

During the day, Herbst receives on-the-job training at New Concept Technology, a contract manufacturer. Then, for two nights a week, he takes academic classes through the Manufacturers’ Association. The dual track is a 4- to 5-year commitment for both employer and employee with an end goal of Herbst earning a nationally recognized journeyman certification.

Unlike others in his generation, Herbst won’t be drowning in student loan debt: His employer is covering the costs of his training and paying him a salary at the same time.

Over a five-year period, New Concept Technology covers approximately $250,000 for each apprentice’s books, classroom training, wages and health benefits. The investment is worthwhile, said Thomas K. Baughman, president and CEO of New Concept Technology.

“[Workers] often see the rewards in staying with the company that helped put them where they are,” he said, noting that even though the apprenticeship does not include a commitment to stay with New Concept, workers often choose to remain at the company.

With nearly $400,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Pre-Apprentice and Apprenticeship Grant Program, the Manufacturers’ Association hopes to double the number of apprentices participating in its program.

The funding will also help with recruiting people to manufacturing.

The money will be used to help build on a pre-apprenticeship program operated in collaboration with area high schools. The Manufacturers’ Association is working not only to fight the “dirty jobs” stigma that is often associated with the field, but to also present another option to outgoing seniors that includes paid training and education as well as a future career.

The average manufacturing worker in the U.S. in 2016 earned $82,023 annually, including pay and benefits, according to data collected by the National Association of Manufacturers, based in Washington, D.C.

“I’m making something of myself and my future. I’m getting paid to learn - you can’t beat that,” Herbst said.

State funding will also be used to develop an apprenticeship mentor program for employers and build capacity for the current apprenticeship program at the Manufacturers’ Association. It will also be used to financially assist companies not connected with the association’s instructional apprenticeship training, said Brian Paterniti, training manager for the association.

“One of our main objectives as an association that recognizes the critical workforce needs of its members, is to help ensure there is a steady pipeline of skilled workers to meet the needs of local businesses,” Paterniti said. “Apprenticeships can help do just that.”

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Emily Thurlow

Emily Thurlow

​Emily Thurlow covers York County​ for the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a tip? Drop her a line at ethurlow@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter @localloislane.

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