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What's next: Northeast State/RCAM apprenticeship strategy

Tom Wilson • Mar 18, 2018 at 12:00 AM

ap·pren·tice·ship (əˈpren(t)ə(s)ˌShip), noun, “A position as an apprentice : an arrangement in which someone learns an art, trade, or job under another.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

For centuries, an apprentice trained under an expert craftsman mastering the technology of the times in civilizations throughout the world. The modern apprentice reunites these processes in the disciplines of electromechanical technology, mechanical technology, machining, metal fabrication, and more for a new generation of artisans.

Northeast State Community College and the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) enable this ages-old tradition by becoming the first community college in Tennessee to sponsor registered apprenticeship programs to provide small- and mid-sized employers with a structured training process using the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Standards of Apprenticeship.

“We’re able to put DOL registered apprenticeship structure together for them and deliver it as a turn-key package,” said Jeff Frazier, RCAM dean. “We can offer it to any size company whether it has one apprenticeship or 20. This allows them to take advantage of the same level of training available to Fortune 500 companies.”

RCAM is a registered apprenticeship sponsor, meaning it can put together a training package — per DOL guidelines — for companies of any size. This training is especially valuable for smaller companies and entrepreneurs that might not otherwise be able to offer or sustain an apprenticeship program. At the end of the program, the workers receive a DOL certificate of completion.

The RCAM sponsored their first apprenticeship program in the spring of 2017 when Kingsport’s Silgan Closures entered into a registered apprenticeship program in RCAM’s mechatronics technician program. Silgan employees participating in the four-year program receive classroom instruction at RCAM and on-the-job training from Silgan. Programs are established as “Group Apprenticeship Programs” enabling companies of all sizes to take advantage of apprenticeship training, without the burden of managing a company sponsored program.

RCAM welcomed its second partner in August 2017 when Primester GP of Kingsport signed on to train their own Mechatronics Technician apprentices. Participating partners become an Authorized Training Agent (ATA) by signing the Employer Acceptance Agreement provided by Northeast State and RCAM. Partners provide training opportunities for all apprentices drawn from their employees or new hires.

Mechatronics — a discipline known familiarly as Electromechanical — combines the knowledge of mechanical technology with the knowledge of electrical technology and electronic circuits. Mechantronics technicians perform critical maintenance and repairs on complex systems that use robotics, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), hydraulics/pneumatics and electrical/electronic circuits.

The versatility of the mechatronics technician skill set enables an apprentice to ply his or her skills in the sectors of biotechnology; energy; chemical and petroleum refining; industrial machinery; and aerospace technology among many others.

Each of the Silgan and Primester apprentices was nominated to apply by their company. They completed RCAM’s application process, which requires a work history, the ACT WorkKeys exam, and an interview. Apprentices must attend and pass coursework off-hours, demonstrate progress in his or her job, and submit monthly work progress reports.

Each employee completing a sponsored apprenticeship will be awarded a DOL certificate of completion. Partners also identify master craft professionals to mentor apprentice(s).

According to the Labor Department, the apprenticeship benefits are substantial. Companies that use such programs can diversify their workforce, improve productivity and profitability, standardize training, reduce turnover, receive tax credits, and more. RCAM envisions future apprenticeship programs to include injection molding process technician, precision machinist, electromechanical technician, tool and die maker, CNC operator, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technician among others.

From careers in healthcare, energy and IT, to manufacturing, transportation and more, Northeast State and RCAM foresee the registered apprenticeship sponsorship as a critical tool for innovative new companies to compete in the global marketplace.

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