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Youth apprentices excelling at Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems

Russell Springs manufacturer recognized for its youth apprenticeship model

(L-R) Sec. Hal Heiner, Torsten Langguth, Garrett Foley, Randa Ballenger, Tyler Moore, Dylan Bryant, Sec. Derrick Ramsey.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (June 27, 2016) – Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner and Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt recently visited with employees at Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems in Russell Springs to get a closer look at a nationally recognized youth apprenticeship partnership that may be replicated across the state.

“To see firsthand a European-style apprenticeship program thriving here in Kentucky gives me great optimism,” Sec. Ramsey stated following a tour of the injection molding production facility. “Dr. Schneider sees the value in grooming local talent in Russell County, and I think this is an important lesson for other business leaders across Kentucky.”

The successful youth apprenticeship model between Dr. Schneider, Russell County High School, and the Lake Cumberland Area Technology Center is a part of the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) initiative and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor. The goal of this unique partnership is to provide a career pathway to a registered apprenticeship for career and technical education (CTE) students who are beginning their junior year of high school.

“Our apprentices bring tremendous value to our company because they are our future skilled employees,” said Plant Manager Torsten Langguth. “Before the apprentices, we were forced to bring in people from far away for jobs because the skill levels were not found in, or around, the area we live in. Our youth apprenticeship program is, in our opinion, a new career path for young talented students who seek opportunities other than college. These students learn very specific skilled jobs at a young age, and continue to be trained throughout their apprenticeship. By the end of their instruction, they are trained and molded into the professionals needed in our company.”

Now in its third year, Dr. Schneider’s apprenticeship program employs four students whose jobs include injection molding, mechatronics, industrial maintenance and tool-making. The youth apprenticeship process begins in the students’ sophomore year when they are recruited from the Lake Cumberland Area Technology Center, apply to the program, and enter an interview process.

Once accepted into the apprenticeship program by Dr. Schneider, they begin a co-op program in their junior year of high school – taking courses pre-selected by the company while getting on-the-job training. The combination of classwork and real work experience not only satisfies high school course requirements, but it also gives the apprentices a pathway toward two important credentials: a nationally-accepted journeyperson certificate and an associate’s degree.

Garrett Foley, an apprentice in the program, graduated last month from Russell County High School with more than 1,700 hours completed toward the journeyperson component of the apprenticeship.

“The opportunity to stay home in Russell Springs and begin an apprenticeship at Dr. Schneider in industrial maintenance has been a golden opportunity for me and my career,” Foley said. “Through the guidance of a few teachers at school, I was encouraged to apply for this apprenticeship, and two years later, I’m so thankful I took that first step. The process has proven to be a lot of hard work, but when I complete my apprenticeship next summer, I will officially be a certified industrial maintenance specialist and will know that it has been worth every ounce of sweat.”

The TRACK program began in 2013 when 13 high schools in Kentucky were used as pilot programs to offer a more personalized approach to job training for advanced manufacturing skills. Today, it has expanded to every county across the state and includes the carpentry, electrical technology and welding fields. It was developed together by the Labor, and Education and Workforce Development cabinets and promotes a “grow your own” approach to employers looking to fill these critical positions.

With 1.3 million vacant STEM jobs currently in America, initiatives like TRACK that feature youth apprenticeships have come to the forefront of solutions needed to address America’s skills gap. One organization directly involved with fostering this discussion is Advance CTE – an educational non-profit based in Silver Spring, Maryland that works closely with state-level leaders responsible for overseeing Career Technical Education across the country.

“TRACK is truly an impressive program, one of the few statewide programs that so successfully build career pathways between CTE programs of study and apprenticeships,” said Kate Blosveren Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director of Advance CTE. “This is critical – and unique – because it unites the education, labor and private sectors around the common goals of student success and building a skilled workforce.”

A recent study from Mathematica Policy Research indicates that the return on every public dollar invested in registered apprenticeship programs was 27 dollars. Accordingly, Gov. Bevin, and the Labor and the Education and Workforce Development cabinets have made a strong commitment to prioritizing the use of all registered apprenticeships to address workforce development challenges in Kentucky. In fact, the latest budget recently signed into law an additional $500,000 over the next two years for the Labor Cabinet to expand the impact of registered apprenticeships as part of Gov. Bevin’s comprehensive strategy to invigorate the Commonwealth’s workforce.

“I am grateful for Governor Bevin’s commitment to strengthening the Commonwealth’s workforce through a multi-faceted approach,” Education and Workforce Secretary Hal Heiner said. “Apprenticeships are a key component to ensuring that our next generation is well trained and ready to step into the high-skill, high-wage jobs that are already in significant demand. Expanded apprenticeship opportunities, in conjunction with the recently established $100 million bond pool for technical education facility upgrades and the $15 million Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship program for high school students, will better position our young people—and our state—for success.”

Kentucky’s experience has shown that demand for the skills cultivated in apprenticeship programs goes hand-in-hand with economic investment. According to recent numbers from the Economic Development Cabinet, manufacturing, service and technology sectors announced more than 460 new location or expansion projects with total investment exceeding $5.1 billion. Over half of this investment has occurred in the automotive sector, forcing suppliers like Dr. Schneider to place greater importance on apprentices to meet growing labor needs.

“Our apprenticeship program is a crucial part of our ability to attract and develop the kind of future leadership needed for Dr. Schneider to keep pace with market demands,” Langguth stated. “Though an apprentice like Garrett has just graduated from high school, he has already received the kind of in-house instruction needed to be a key component of our industrial maintenance shop. As our business continues to expand, youth apprentices will play a huge role in the future direction of our company.”

Kentucky House Republican Leader and Russell Springs resident, Jeff Hoover, not only echoed successes of Russell County’s model, but he also stressed the need for similar models to be created statewide to grow the state’s manufacturing sector.

“It is crucial for Kentucky to have the skilled workforce to continue to successfully attract and retain businesses, particularly in the automobile manufacturing sector,” Rep. Hoover stated. “This program has been very successful in addressing the skills gap and aging workforce in the region. However, we can’t stop there. We need to expand upon its success and encourage this same type of apprenticeship all over Kentucky in order to continue to lure world-class manufacturing.”

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet works with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship to administer all registered apprenticeship programs in the Commonwealth. In addition to ensuring that all federal and state standards are met, the Cabinet helps to recruit businesses – or “sponsors” – that are looking to partner with local high schools and area technology centers.

“Registered apprenticeships will play an increasingly important role in our state’s economy,” Sec. Ramsey stated. “As many of Kentucky’s employers continue to battle a shortage of skilled tradesmen combined with an aging workforce, building registered apprenticeships to address these issues will remain a top priority for the Labor Cabinet.

“For Kentucky to continue to prosper not only in the manufacturing sector but the high-skilled areas of healthcare and information technology in the future, utilizing the opportunities that youth apprenticeships provide will be essential. When business leaders and school officials collaborate to help tackle our workforce issues, local solutions are cultivated – leaving students and their parents with career opportunities previously unseen. It’s important that our students understand not all successful career pathways require a four-year degree.”

Langguth agreed.

“Bringing education and industry together is the most important step, and we are very thankful for the support we’ve received from the Lake Cumberland Area Technology Center, Russell County High School, and officials from Frankfort,” he stated. “These groups of people have all come together with us to create a curriculum for an excellent TRACK apprenticeship program.”