Apprenticeship program designed to boost manufacturing workforce
By: John Cropley
Schools, economic development agencies collaborate to cut red tape
COLONIE — Capital Region manufacturers having trouble finding skilled workers can now get help through a new apprenticeship program.
The Center for Economic Growth is partnering with the Manufacturers Association of New York on the initiative to help companies train new workers. At too many companies, organizers say, the manufacturing workforce is aging, and there are not enough young workers with the skills or inclination to replace them.
The Manufacturing Intermediary Apprenticeship Program provides help with a lot of the paperwork and red tape involved with training. The costs in many cases are still borne by the companies themselves, but they are not huge — sometimes only $3,000 per employee.
CEG, the economic development agency serving the eight-county Capital Region, held an informational session about the program Tuesday.
CEG President Andrew Kennedy said apprenticeships are a good path to careers — not just jobs — for people who don’t want to attend a two- or four-year college.
“Much has been talked about; hopefully it’s coming across: There really is no one solution for manufacturing issues,” he said.
The apprenticeship program is just one piece of the puzzle to attract companies to the region, help existing companies stay and grow, convince young people to stay in the area and attract new young people to the area.
Martha Ponge, director of apprenticeship for the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, said the ability for a company to grow “really depends on them having a well-trained workforce.”
She noted that 95 percent of New York manufacturers are small or medium-sized, with one to 100 employees. There are fewer huge manufacturers in New York than there once were, but there is a vibrant community of smaller manufacturers.
She said the Capital Region is adding manufacturing jobs at a faster pace than many areas, so it needs more of the workers who are in short supply.
“You’re growing much more quickly in the Capital District than a lot of other places in the state, and so the challenges are going to get exponentially larger as you try and grow as a manufacturing community.”
Patrisia Sheremeta, human resources manager for Greno Industries in Glenville, said her company has a hard time growing its workforce of 40.
“I just placed an ad for an experienced machinist and I got zero applicants,” she said. “I think the demand for machinists is high and the number of people with the skills is low.”
Greno machines parts for turbine applications and is trying to grow its own workforce, she said at Tuesday’s meeting, including through YouthBuild, BOCES, and, now, the apprenticeship program.
“We’re very involved in this program; we’re very excited about it,” Sheremeta said.
Maribeth Kehrer, human resources coordinator for Velocity Print in Scotia, said her printing company employs about 75. Roughy 60 percent of them are in production, and many are getting closer to retirement. Their skills take years to develop, she added.
“We’re just looking for people who have some kind of mechanical inclination,” Kehrer said. “The printing industry requires a lot of technical training, so it takes time to train the workers themselves.”
There’s a misconception that print is a dying industry, she added, so it’s especially helpful for a printer to have an apprenticeship program.
“I think it gives us a pipeline to people who are looking to make a career … I think that’s the biggest thing: finding somebody who’s not just looking for a job but a career.”
Two local community colleges are involved in the initiative. Hudson Valley Community College’s new Manufacturing Technology Pathways Project, which gives training through stackable non-credit courses that prepare students for work, is seen as an ideal prelude to apprenticeship.
Associate Dean Penny Hill called it just the latest step in workforce training for the school, which founded its Advanced Manufacturing Technology program 60 years ago.
Denise Zieske, vice president of workforce development and community education at Schenectady County Community College, said SCCC is launching a certified production technician program that will help further the goals of the apprenticeship program. It is designed to provide universal skills, such as safety, quality practices and measurement and maintenance awareness, rather than specific skills for specific jobs, but SCCC has fine-tuned classroom work to match the needs of partner companies or industries, such as craft brewing.
“What we’re doing in the class is ever-evolving and changing,” Zieske said. “I think that’s what we’re looking to do for the manufacturers.”