Mohawk Industries Expands Apprenticeship Model Developed in Partnership with RCBI

HUNTINGTON — The world’s largest flooring company is taking an apprenticeship model developed in partnership with the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI) to corporate sites in more than a dozen states. It is a move borne of necessity for Mohawk Industries.

“We could not find the talent we needed for the vacancies we had,” said Linda McEntire, the company’s director of technical training programs. “We knew we had to take a different approach.”

Initially, Mohawk plans to implement the apprenticeship model at facilities in Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma.

This is just the start, however, for a training model first implemented by RCBI at the Unilin/Mohawk plant in Holden, West Virginia.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded RCBI $4.9 million for Apprenticeship Works, the National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program at RCBI. The five-year initiative will make apprenticeships more affordable to employers and more accessible to employees and individuals considering careers in manufacturing.

“This award recognizes a unique approach to apprenticeship building in West Virginia that addresses the growing skills gap in manufacturing,” said Charlotte Weber, RCBI Director & CEO.

Through Apprenticeship Works, RCBI and its partners will deliver apprenticeship training that combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction.

The benefits of apprenticeships are substantial for manufacturers, said Kenneth Milnes, the state director for the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It’s going to produce high-skilled employees,” he said. “It will reduce turnover and increase productivity and give them a more diverse workforce.”

Employees benefit as well, Milnes said. Those who participate in an apprenticeship program learn new skills and gain valuable industry credentials while earning a salary. Some apprentices work toward an associate degree from a community college, further enhancing their careers.

Through the RCBI program, apprenticeships will be established initially in occupations that include manual and computer-controlled machining as well as emerging fields of additive manufacturing (better known as 3D Printing), composites and robotics. The initiative will focus on innovative pre-apprenticeship programs for women, transitioning military personnel and disadvantaged youth.

Working in a variety of industries — including flooring, automotive, aerospace, robotics, defense and related industries — the RCBI program will develop apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships across the United States.

Such a large endeavor requires a team of committed partners.

Apprenticeship Works will leverage the unique expertise and resources of multiple public and private entities from across the nation, including RCBI, Marshall University Research Corp., the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, the National Governors’ Association, ToolingU-SME, America Makes, the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers, West Virginia Women Work, Troops to Technology, the Jobs Corp, Workforce Investment Boards, private industry partners such as Mohawk, workforce development agencies, universities, local community and technical colleges, and career centers.  

RCBI collaborated with the Department of Labor, the Workforce Investment Board, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, the Ralph R. Willis Career and Technical Center as well as Mohawk to develop the registered mechatronics apprenticeship program at the Holden plant in 2014.

It was the success of that program – and another in Danville, Va., – that encouraged the company to consider an expansion of the apprenticeship model.

Initially, the Mohawk apprenticeships will be in mechatronics, providing employees the skills necessary to work on all kinds of machinery — everything from conveyor belts to robots, McEntire said. The company, however, plans offer apprenticeships in other occupations in the future, she said.

Delivery of one component of the manual machinist training provided by RCBI was initiated with InnovateWV, to kick-start the manufacturer’s apprenticeship commitment.

McEntire was the human resources manager at the Holden plant before returning to Georgia to lead the apprenticeship effort for the company. She said she is pleased that the project that got its start in Holden has taken off.

“We thought it would be successful in Holden, but we never dreamed it would go company wide,” she said.

For more information about the RCBI Apprenticeship Works initiative, go to www.rcbi.org/online/apprenticeships.

For information about early-stage funding opportunities through InnovateWV, go to www.rcbi.org/online/funding.