Internships, apprenticeships and developing new workers

Among the most common issues GLTAAC hears from manufacturers is the difficulty of recruiting new workers. The manufacturing workforce is aging, and attracting new workers is an ongoing challenge. To compound the challenge, employers need more highly skilled workers prepared to operate advanced machinery.interns

The issue has gained a lot of attention. A 2011 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute notes that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled over the next decade. Due to a lack of skilled workers, 2 million of those jobs could go unfilled.

How did it get to this point? There are many reasons, including the loss of stability and resources that US manufacturers used to offer. Cost constraints in the face of global competition led to plant closures and stagnant wages. There were fewer resources available for development. And the challenges faced by the industry presented a dismal, if inaccurate, view of manufacturing for younger people.

Apprenticeships & Internships: tools to help fill the talent pipeline

Apprenticeships declined significantly in recent decades. An age-old tradition, apprentices would begin hands-on paid work as teenagers and then take on increasing responsibility. Once completing their training, many apprentices would stay on with the firm, providing an ongoing source of skilled and well paid workers. Apprenticeship programs remain strong in Europe. In Switzerland, 70% of young people aged 15-19 are in apprenticeship programs across a range of occupations, from manufacturing to healthcare to banking. Germany, well known for its technical training, can boast 65% of young people in programs.1 The United States, by contrast, has seen a decline in apprenticeship programs. Over the past decade, apprenticeship programs fell by one-third. The U.S. now has fewer than 40% the number of apprentices than Great Britain.2

Yet, some students continue to seek internships to gain knowhow and learn about careers in manufacturing. While not as lengthy and intensive as apprenticeship programs, internships can help students apply classroom study in the workplace. And, in spite of trends, some manufacturers are taking initiative to attract and train new interns. Bay Motor Products, an electric motor manufacturer in Traverse City, Michigan, has tapped a local trade school to invite interns into the company. They hope to recruit some in the future as they graduate and move in to the workforce. Each intern commits eighty hours to their internship over several months. In addition to training potential future workers, the program brings other benefits. Larry Bordine, Engineering Director at Bay Motor, comments that, “You learn by teaching. Explaining work or processes that are second nature forces you to evaluate how you work.” He also offered that interns bring new energy to a group.

Indeed, interns can be a way to help a short-staffed team with extra work. However, interns require a lot of direct supervision. Work tasks need to be well-defined, and should be interesting enough to provide a good learning opportunity. Bordine notes that it’s important to provide substantive work, and that supervision takes time. “They gain some experience and we do get needed projects done. But it’s not a bottom line thing.” Interns have worked on the production floor, mapped processes, and run test equipment. And basic tasks that “need to get done” are part of the mix. Interns will have also learned on the latest software and can bring an up-to-date perspective to an experienced team.

More needs to be done. Interest in manufacturing is lagging among young people, and companies need to apply resources to train and engage new staff. Deloitte estimates the percentage of manufacturing staff dedicated to training has fallen by one half from 2006 to 2013. Internships, renewed apprenticeship programs, and community college involvement are all helping address the issue. A new wave of workforce development and renewed energy in manufacturing may be just gaining steam.

State-based programs – plus workforce development help from GLTAAC

There are a variety of state-level resources for interns. For example, the state of Michigan launched a program to help smaller firms pay for engineering interns from state universities. Read more about this program here: MCRN Small Company Internship Award.

In northeast Ohio, MAGNET and Cleveland State are working together to help employers connect with potential interns. Financial support may also be available. Click here to learn about MAGNET’s internship connection program.

Need more inspiration? Have a look at Ruth Ann Church’s blog detailing how Indiana’s Overton Industries began their own apprenticeship and internship program.

And, GLTAAC can co-fund employee development projects for import-challenged manufacturers in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Our clients use TAAF program matching funds to help in their employee development efforts, including machine training, leadership coaching, and lean systems training

Contact GLTAAC for more information.
1 Can’t Find Skilled Workers? Start an Apprentice Program, Peter Downs, January 17, 2014, The Wall Street Journal

2 Just Whose Job Is It to Train Workers?, Lauren Weber, July 17, 2014, The Wall Street Journal