There are a number of manufacturing training programs in the Rock River Valley; one of them that you don’t hear much about is the Rock River Valley Tooling and Machining Association (RRVTMA) Apprenticeship Program.
I had a chance to visit with Don Williams, RRVTMA Apprentice Administrator, to get first hand insight to this program. In recent years of 2007/2008, there may have been 40 to 45 apprentices, but now, Williams says they are approaching 60 to 65 apprentices, coming from Rockford and cities such as Marengo, Beloit, Dixon, Janesville and Freeport. Most are in their late 20′s/early 30′s and even include a father & son. The 2012 Class graduated 7, while the 2015 Class is on track to graduate 27!
Why the increase in apprentices? Williams says that companies are beginning to realize that they must train their own employees and doing it through a formal apprentice program is a better way than just “on-the-job” training.
A manufacturing company is the sponsor of an employee who would like to commit to the 4 year program. The employee must take classes at Rock Valley College, normally at night or on a Saturday in the Fall and Spring. Classes include Math, Blueprint reading, Materials and Processes, CNC Set Up and Operations, AutoCAD and Welding. Most of the companies will pay for the tuition either directly or through a reimbursement program.
What about the concern that an employee will get through the program and leave for a higher paying job at another company? Williams says that most of the employees stay with their company especially if the company rewards the graduated apprentice appropriately. Even if they left their sponsoring company, they would be staying in the region and the net result is a growth in skilled workers within the region. Isn’t that what we all want?
Many of the sponsoring companies are members of the RRVTMA and strong supporters through the years of its apprenticeship programs. They stay involved with the Apprentice program through fundraisers that help support apprentices and host the Annual Apprentice Graduation Dinner at which a journeyman’s certificate is awarded to each graduate.
Williams also conducts an Aptitude Test in which the public may participate. Reasoning, Mechanical Aptitude, Word Association and Math help determine suitability for a career in manufacturing. Companies use the test to screen potential hires while an individual can use it to market him/herself especially if the scoring is favorable. Of the recent 18 that completed the test, 9 were hired to become apprentices in sponsoring companies.
This program adds to others such as TechWorks that will continually add to our region’s manufacturing capabilities. With the upcoming RPS 205 College and Career Academies, the trend to a bigger pool of skilled workers is clearly upward.