Expanded apprenticeships to include additive manufacturing

Manufacturers using additive technologies soon will have a new training tool in their arsenal: registered apprenticeships through Apprenticeship Works, the National Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Partnership at the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI). Funded with a major grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Apprenticeship Works assists manufacturers across the United States in establishing registered apprenticeships. Apprenticeship Works provides them with consulting services, access to online training and train-the-trainer services, as well as streamlined tracking and assessment tools. Each company customizes the RCBI model to fit its needs.

“What’s unique is the flexibility and adaptability of our apprenticeship model,” said Lucinda Curry, director of Apprenticeship Works. “Companies implement and scale them at their own pace and alter them to meet changing needs.”

 In 2017, Apprenticeship Works will launch its apprenticeship modelfor additive manufacturing/3D printing technician. Apprenticeship Works and partners America Makes, the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers and Tooling U-SME worked during the past year to develop the necessary elements of the additive manufacturing apprenticeship, including the required set of competencies for technicians. Apprenticeship Works provides the model, development and consulting to customize each company’s program to its printers and processes. In addition, it provides train-the-trainer courses and serves as the intermediary between employers, the DOL and other training partners.

Craig McAtee, executive director of the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers, said apprenticeships can be an “amazing tool” for industry, especially when they are based on the competencies of the employee, rather than the number of hours spent on the job.

McAtee said industry wants employees who can do more than just operate 3D printers in their shops. Industry needs technicians with an understanding of design, quality control and post-processing. Apprenticeships will help companies “upskill” their current talent, he said.

“This is not a stand-alone thing,” he said. “Technicians have to know it all – blueprint reading, CNC, 2D design and 3D design. They need that foundation to work in additive.”

Workforce development has long been recognized as critical to the wider adoption of additive manufacturing technology. Specifically, America Makes has emphasized the development of programs that build industrial experience in on-the-job environments. The Workforce, Education and Outreach Advisory Group of America Makes identified training for technicians as one of its priorities.

The situation is urgent. The “skills gap” in manufacturing is exacerbated by the seismic expansion of additive manufacturing as well as the rapid and continuing evolution of 3D Printing technologies. The global industry is expected to balloon from $5 billion in 2015 to more than $21 billion by 2020, according to Wohlers Report.

As a founding member of America Makes, RCBI champions workforce development for additive manufacturing technologies, said Charlotte Weber, RCBI Director & CEO.

“RCBI is steadfast in its commitment to promoting the adoption of additive manufacturing,” Weber said. “Crucial to this effort is the cultivation of a highly skilled additive manufacturing workforce to spur innovation and ensure the global competitiveness of American industry.”

Based in Huntington, West Virginia, RCBI provides leading-edge equipment, specialized training and staff expertise so entrepreneurs and manufacturers of all sizes can thrive. In the past five years alone, RCBI has trained more than 3,300 workers, many through apprenticeships.

RCBI’s apprenticeship efforts began in 2013 when it helped one West Virginia plant resolve a continuing workforce dilemma. Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest flooring manufacturer, could not find candidates with the advanced skills to fill critical machine maintenance positions at its plant in Holden, West Virginia. RCBI joined with Mohawk and a broad coalition of partners to create a novel apprenticeship model, one that provides industry-endorsed educational opportunities through on-the-job learning as well as related technical and practical instruction. The approach proved to be a win-win situation for Mohawk and its employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor heralded this apprenticeship model as one that should be replicated nationwide. In 2015, the DOL awarded RCBI and a nationwide team of partners a $4.9 million American Apprenticeship Initiative grant to expand the proven apprenticeship model across the county.

Registered apprenticeships established through Apprenticeship Works benefit both employees and employers. Employees learn new skills through on-the-job training with an assigned mentor and related technical training provided online or at a local college or training center. As employees advance in their apprenticeships, they receive incremental wage increases. In many cases, apprentices obtain post-secondary degrees through local community colleges.

For employers, registered apprenticeships offer a systematic approach to training that increases the knowledge transfer, improves productivity and enhances retention.

The five-year goal of Apprenticeship Works is to train at least 1,000 apprentices and 415 pre-apprentices in 17 high-growth advanced manufacturing occupations, including additive manufacturing technology. Several multi-state companies plan to launch apprenticeships through Apprenticeship Works by expanding their successful programs even further to plants in more than a dozen states.

For more information about Apprenticeship Works, contact Lucinda Curry at lcurry@rcbi.org.