Building a Workforce Pipeline Through Apprenticeship

Posted By: Tim Walker on November 14, 2017

Tim Walker, Training & Development Specialist, Pequot Tool & Manufacturing

Today we are pleased to welcome Tim Walker, Training & Development Specialist from Pequot Tool & Manufacturing, a precision machining and fabrication contract manufacturer that is tackling its workforce challenges through apprenticeships.

Tim Walker

In a remote area, about three hours north of Minneapolis, sits a small town of 448 and a manufacturer called Pequot Tool & Manufacturing (PTM). PTM offers precision machining and fabrication services, and is a contract manufacturer. We sell expertise. The company was founded in 1981 and has roughly 170 employees. It's a privately held, second-generation, family-owned business, which in itself has some interesting dynamics.

North Central Minnesota is an area known more for hunting and fishing than employment opportunities. Some have joked that we have more lakes than people. With this particular lifestyle, and our secluded location, you can imagine how difficult it is to find good workers to fill our pipeline.

After trying to lure students from the local community college (60 miles away), with limited success, we realized that our best solution would be to find people who were passionate about the area and interested in rewarding careers, and then develop them internally.

So we set out to find, invest in, and teach individuals of all ages and backgrounds to become the quality workforce we needed. We started with two candidates: a seasonal chef and a law enforcement student, both in need of a change. These two candidates showed such initiative and aptitude for the work that it inspired PTM’s owners and leadership team to establish a systematic training program to develop new and incumbent workers.

Concurrent with this commitment to employee development, we became aware of a grant program recently established by the State of Minnesota. PTM was able to write a grant request and acquire its first grant through the PIPELINE (Private Investment, Public Education, Labor and Industry Experience) Dual-Training Grant Program.1 Administered through the Minnesota Department of Higher Education, this grant was established to train incumbent workers through a collaborative partnership between employers and educators.

When I originally saw this grant opportunity, I passed on it, because it seemed too difficult to work with a community college 60 miles away. However, by combining Tooling U-SME industry-validated courses and NIMS (National Institute for Metalworking Skills Inc.) credentials, we qualified as our own education provider. Building our training program with these nationally recognized organizations lent credibility to our dual-training process.

In Round 1, we were awarded nearly $110,000 for the development of 14 CNC machinist trainees. We are currently participating in Round 4 of the PIPELINE grant, leveraging an award of $150,000 with 25 students enrolled. Awareness of these training efforts improved morale throughout the workforce. We also found that employees engaged in continued competency development and experienced lower defect rates. And, the company experienced a 50 percent drop in employee turnover.

In March 2017, these efforts culminated in the approval of our registered apprenticeship standard by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. Deputy Commissioner Jessica Looman paid us a visit to present the certificate. With the registered apprenticeship standard in place, we entered into a Tooling U-SME service agreement to produce a custom Apprenticeship Acceleration Framework. The key word in this process is acceleration. Tooling U-SME’s expertise provided an abbreviated time to launch, and we were able to cover the contract expenses through the Minnesota Apprenticeship Initiative Grant. 2

PTM currently has 14 registered CNC machinist apprentices, with many others enrolled in our “pre-apprenticeship.” In September 2017, we amended our apprenticeship standard to include the quality inspector job role and registered two additional participants. With the continued support of Tooling U-SME Customized Services, we envision adding two more job roles to our registered apprenticeship by year-end. With the implementation of our competency-based training process (both inside and outside of registered apprenticeship), we have seen skills development progress at a faster pace than we experienced in the past—with less formal training and development. What might have taken 3-5 years was achieved in 12-18 months.

If you want to learn how to build a strong competency-based apprenticeship program, reach out to us at 866.706.8665.

1. Dual-training grants are part of the Minnesota PIPELINE Project, which was established by the Minnesota Legislature in 2014 to expand dual-training and apprenticeship programs.

2. A $5 million grant through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)—part of the DOL’s American Apprenticeship Initiative to expand registered apprenticeship as a workforce development tool.

Tags: "all ages and backgrounds", Apprenticeship, "Apprenticeship Acceleration Framework", "Department of Labor", "dual-funding PIPELINE", "faster pace", grant, industry-validated, lifestyle, local, NIMS