Increasing the Manufacturing Talent Pipeline with Pre-Apprenticeships
Conrad Mercurius, Coordinator of Advanced Manufacturing Tech, Raritan Valley Community College on
February 13, 2020
Today we welcome Conrad Mercurius, Coordinator of Advanced Manufacturing Tech at Raritan Valley Community College, who joins us to discuss how to attract young talent to the manufacturing workforce and engage them in exciting careers.
There is a manufacturing skills gap and we’re hearing about it firsthand from local manufacturers. As an educational institution, we are compelled to serve our community and have implemented excellent advanced manufacturing training programs, but it’s not enough—the talent pipeline for our local manufacturers continues to shrink.
At Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), we realized that in order to make a dent in the looming skills gap for area manufacturers, we need to attract the young talent entering the workforce and initiate excitement about careers in advanced manufacturing.
One major challenge is exposing youth to advanced manufacturing in general. High school students may have had introductory technology classes, but their families are not likely to encourage them to explore manufacturing career paths unless one of their members has had prior manufacturing experience. To spread the word about the fulfilling careers that advanced manufacturing offers, RVCC showcased some actual advanced manufacturing tools such as 3D printers at high school open houses, where students, superintendents and administrators can explore the possibilities of computer-aided design and its application to manufacturing. Illuminating the high-tech printers allowed students to understand the extreme technicalities and computing-based career paths of advanced manufacturing.
Partnerships benefit students and manufacturers
As today’s high school students statistically thrive on experiential and sensory engagement, their ability to touch, hear and see manufacturers’ work areas provides them with an incentive to learn more about advanced manufacturing. For that reason, RVCC invited students to tour factory floors and witness the environment firsthand. In turn, local area manufacturers visited students during training, which further exposed students to the businesses of their future employers.
These employer partnerships stem from advisory boards comprising the industry’s most prominent employers. RVCC solicits their input to ensure training program curriculum matches industry’s needs and to continue the delivery of skilled and qualified candidates to the marketplace.
RVCC understands that the younger workforce is looking for an impassioned career with purpose that makes a difference in the world, the freedom to discover new technologies, and flexible schedules. Toward that end, we showed students that careers in advanced manufacturing directly answer those needs with fast-changing technology, flexible training methods, green and clean environments, and endless possibilities for professional growth.
Manufacturing boot camps encourage innovation
RVCC hosts week-long advanced manufacturing boot camps over the summer months so high school students can continue exploring career paths within the industry. To pique curiosity and encourage innovation, students are tasked with participating in a “Shark Tank”-esque competition judged by area manufacturers, which furthers interest and excitement in advanced manufacturing and employment opportunities.
In January 2019, RVCC was awarded the Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education (PACE) grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor. The grant gave us the flexibility to explore in-demand industries and provide local youth opportunities for apprenticeships and employment.
RVCC also makes advanced manufacturing accessible to youth through our competency-based, four-module stackable machining program, supported by a U.S. Department of Labor registered apprenticeship. This pre-apprenticeship program exposed secondary students to manufacturing careers and to advanced manufacturing career pathways that have low barriers to entry employment.
Pre-apprenticeship program fast-tracks students
Getting students to commit to a six-hours-a-day, four-day school week during the summertime was an initial concern, so partnering with local high schools was the first step. We began by showing administrators, teachers and students the benefits of a pre-apprenticeship bridge program leading to careers in manufacturing, including:
- An opportunity to earn industry-recognized credentials
- Hands-on learning with a career focus
- Access to support and career counseling
- The potential to earn college credits
- Possible entry into a paid apprenticeship program
A total of 12 students were admitted to RVCC’s first pre-apprenticeship program, and seven of them continued during the school year. The curriculum included Tooling U-SME’s new fast-track National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) certification program and 120 hours of training. This cohort will graduate in May 2020 with elective credits towards the Mechanical Engineering Technology track at RVCC.
As part of the pre-apprenticeship program, advanced manufacturing students are now eligible for a full apprenticeship program. Employers will meet with all of the graduates to determine the open positions they will fill as apprentices.
Training program helps close skills gap
This is only the beginning. When RVCC started its advanced manufacturing training program, there were only five students. This year, 20 students will complete the program and be on their way to becoming apprentices, with 12 pre-apprenticeship graduates working toward that same goal. The benefits of establishing a pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship program completely outweigh the efforts and organizational logistics. RVCC is proud to be serving the community with advanced manufacturing education and training that continues to close the advanced manufacturing talent gap.
Check out this short video about RVCC’s direct-employment advanced manufacturing program.
Learn more about apprenticeships by downloading Tooling U-SME’s white paper, “Apprenticeships: Modernizing a Proven Workforce Development Strategy.”
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