JARC Offers Alternative Apprenticeship Model

Nearly 400 production workers in the Chicago area are currently enrolled in a new kind of apprenticeship model, spearheaded by the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC).

JARC offers an alternative to the traditional Department of Labor registered apprenticeship for its manufacturing partners. JARC helps employers create a formal system of occupations, labor grades and career paths for employee training and advancement, specific to each company’s unique needs and production processes.

In early 2012 the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing connected JARC with a manufacturer confounded with a pressing workforce issue. The Swedish company Trelleborg Sealing Solutions had acquired a small manufacturing company in Streamwood, IL that produces machined bearings for heavy industrial applications. At the time, the shop had only manual machines. Trelleborg planned to add 15-20 computer numerical control (CNC) machines to modernize the plant; they had the capital to purchase the machines but could not find any candidates with the requisite skills to operate them.

JARC was initially brought in as a resource for hiring, but after discussing the scale of Trelleborg’s labor needs, it became clear that hiring alone would not meet the demand. JARC proposed a new solution: a structured on-site training program that would rapidly advance the skills of Trelleborg’s existing workforce. This became JARC’s first customized apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeship programs range from internally-created, company-driven programs to the traditional Department of Labor four-year journeyman programs tailored to the individual. These programs all share a structured progression of coursework and on-the-job training that verifies an employee has mastered a defined set of subject material competencies before advancing to the next level of training.

JARC’s apprenticeship model is a hybrid of these models as it benefits both the employer and the individual. It consists of three components: coursework, demonstration of core competencies, and industry certifications. On the employer side, each apprenticeship is customized to the equipment and labor needs of the company. For example, Trelleborg desperately needed CNC lathe operators that could use Mazak machines, and hence the apprenticeship was designed to build those skills first. JARC’s model also benefits the individual by preparing them for industry-recognized credentials (in Trelleborg’s case, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)). While the employee is acquiring skills that are valuable to the company, the credentials they earn are transferable to other manufacturing companies.

In the last three years, JARC’s apprenticeship program has made a significant impact on the productivity and culture at Trelleborg. With the development of skilled machinists to operate the new CNC machines, Trelleborg experienced a 14% improvement in productivity in the first year of the apprenticeship. Since then trainees have earned 18 advanced NIMS credentials, demonstrating their ability to program, set-up and operate CNC machines.

JARC’s apprenticeship program also improved employee retention and instilled a culture of learning within Trelleborg. Employees routinely request more classes and training, and some are even taking advantage of Trelleborg’s tuition reimbursement to pursue advanced coursework at postsecondary institutions. Much of this is due to management’s investment in employees that show initiative with training and advancement opportunities. With feedback from the apprenticeship instructors, Trelleborg identified high-potential employees and fast-tracked their training. On an individual level, graduates said they were more confident and relaxed on the machines, improving their performance and job satisfaction.

JARC’s apprenticeship model is unique in that it is truly employer driven and customized to each company based on their specific needs and processes. At the same time, it gives individual employees portable credentials that are valuable for career advancement. JARC is currently working with several additional companies, including Jason Components and Freedman Seating Company, to adapt this model to their unique workforce needs and challenges. This year, National Apprenticeship Week coincides with the launch of JARC’s newest customized apprenticeship program, called “Freedman University,” with Freedman Seating Company.