Changing Lives: West Va. Women Work Pre-Apprenticeship Program

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Chief Workforce Development Officer, SME on November 15, 2017

West Va Women Work Pre-Apprenticeship Program

Today we want to tell you about two dynamic women who had the courage to change their lives by entering the West Virginia Women Work Pre-Apprenticeship Program.

Frustrated with the erratic hours and non-guaranteed pay structure of her restaurant industry job, Fran Barker, 37, decided to make a change. When the West Virginia Women Work Pre-Apprenticeship Program popped up on an employment search website, Fran thought, “I need this. I can do this!”

Fran was accepted to the program, which included flexible online workforce education from Tooling U-SME and hands-on lab work at the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) machine shop.

“It was really hard juggling my three boys and my husband’s needs,” said Fran, whose husband recently became disabled. “Having the flexibility to work on my Tooling U-SME online classes at home helped a lot.”

Fran focused on CNC machining but also learned blueprint reading, manual lathe and mill work, and how to make parts.

Near the end of the program, Fran applied to a local manufacturer, Special Metals, a world leader in the invention, production and supply of high-nickel alloys for critical engineering. She was told about an exam she would need to take, and immediately went to her Tooling U-SME classes and previewed everything she would need for the exam, which she aced.

Soon, Fran was fully employed, making close to $16 per hour with additional overtime, full health benefits, a 401K, life insurance, vacation pay and annual free equipment for her position. She also has the opportunity to grow, and loves learning everything the company has to offer.

“One year ago, I never thought I could do any of this,” said Fran. Now she is recommending this program to all of her previous restaurant associates, telling them, “If you want a serious career change, try this! It is challenging and equally rewarding.”

Another graduate, Sam Robinson, newly separated, and the mother of four young children ages 6, 5, 3, and 9 months, made a leap of faith as well. After seeing a post on Facebook, Sam made a call to West Virginia Women Work and asked about its pre-apprenticeship program.

“I knew I needed to do something for my kids, to better my life and theirs,” she said.

Sam started classes in May 2017. By her own account, she is mechanically inclined, and she learned very fast. Focusing on lathe and mill work, Sam reviewed the Tooling U-SME classes prior to going into the lab. “I wanted to familiarize myself with the equipment before I got to class—it made things easier.”

Sam quickly rose to the top of her class, even winning a competition that involved following a blueprint and completing a project on the lathe and mill in one day.

She graduated in August 2017, and soon was also working at Special Metals. Currently a Level 6 stocker and a Level 8 grinder, Sam is making close to $16 per hour with additional overtime pay. The company also provides vacation pay, all health benefits and new equipment every year. She plans to take advantage of Special Metals’ tiered system to bid for open jobs.

“If you get the job, they will fully train you and move you right up the ladder,” said Sam, who can also drive a forklift and run a crane.

Sam is planning to reach the highest level as a grinder. “There are five grinders here,” she said, “and I want to learn each one and move on up.”

Both Fran and Sam’s lives have changed radically due to the pre-apprenticeship program and are role models for others looking for a stimulating and rewarding career.

As Sam said, when asked what she would say to others thinking about the program, “Step out. Step up! Be better than the world sees you, because you are. The sky’s the limit!”

How’s that for an inspiring National Apprenticeship Week story? How can Tooling U-SME help you build a strong pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship program?

Tags: apprentice, apprenticeship, "Fran Barker", grinder, manufacturing, "National Apprenticeship Week", pre-apprenticeship, "Robert C. Byrd Institute", "Sam Robinson", "Special Metals", "Tooling U-SME", "West Virginia Women Work Pre-Apprenticeship Program"