Bridging the Gaps in Manufacturing

May 3, 2018

A survey done by the Associated General Contractors of America concluded that approximately 62 percent of firms are unable to fill skilled trade positions – jobs that require a set of skills and knowledge but not necessarily a post-secondary degree. Seventy four percent of firms also predict a deficit of qualified skilled trade workers as baby boomers retire over the next five years.

The good news is that employers are not sitting on the sidelines. We know that America needs new pathways to opportunity, and employers feel the need to play a bigger role in workforce education. This year it is a goal of the Chamber Foundation to share some of the models we have come across that work, can be repeated, and produce results.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) puts forth a dedicated effort to support the career paths and training needs of its employees. The company, which invents, designs, and manufactures equipment for the global power industry, supports their worldwide team with programs for tuition assistance, on-the-job training, and other learning and development benefits. They recently piloted an apprenticeship program, an extension of their PATH program, which has provided tuition assistance and career guidance since 2002. The new program aims to help workers in entry-level skilled trade positions gain the experience needed to advance their careers without having to go to school.

Though many companies have similar programs, not many of those companies are employee-owned. SEL, 100 percent employee-owned since 2009, has made it a priority to provide employees with opportunities to build their careers.

Story of Success

Brittany Armentrout started as an assembler in the company’s manufacturing facility in Pullman, Washington in 2016. Now three months into an apprenticeship in Process Engineering, Brittany is excited to be able to help improve processes on the manufacturing floor and help make her co-worker’s jobs easier.

“Before the apprenticeship, I really didn’t know that much about process engineering. I just knew that I like to solve problems. Now, I get to do that every day! I’m really excited about the direction my career is going,” said Armentrout.

With a pathway for upward mobility clearly carved for employees willing to learn and ready to work, anything is possible.

Making it Happen

"By focusing on simplicity and aligning employee growth with SEL business needs, we were able to create an apprenticeship program without outside funding. SEL is committed to providing practical ways to grow our talented workforce,” said Thomas Elhart, PATH Program Manager.

The pilot program included ten participants who completed virtual training and hands on work over three months. The short pilot has already seen strong results. Now, SEL has officially launched the apprenticeship program and is expanding to other career paths within the company, including accounting, purchasing, and customer service.

SEL is proving that any company can make a difference with a focus on creating careers for employees, and not just jobs.