By Angela Herolaga, Mazak Employment Manager
Despite high unemployment nationwide, manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to hire workers with the skills required for today’s technology-intensive shop-floor jobs. To add to the problem, the pool of experienced personnel is shrinking as older workers retire, and many young people aren’t entering the industry due to misconceptions about the nature of factory work.
In an effort to reverse those trends, Mazak began a four-year apprenticeship program at its Florence, Kentucky manufacturing facility in 2010. Mazak works to find candidates among the students who attend Northern Kentucky area technology centers.
Our apprentices gain experience in specific areas of the machine-tool manufacturing process. (Job assignments include work as runoff technicians, who test and troubleshoot machine systems; electromechanical technicians, who install and operate machine electrical systems; and CNC technicians, who set up and operate computer numerical control systems.) During the program, the apprentices are full-time employees and earn a competitive wage with benefits.
The program presently is limited to 15-20 new participants each year. There is a good deal of interest; 400 students applied last year, and we expect to triple that in 2014. We use the WorkKeys job skills assessment test from the ACT testing organization to help with decision making. In addition to test scores, we look for students with mechanical/electrical aptitude who have been in an area technology center and have taken manufacturing or mechatronics-type courses that provided hands-on experience.
A great example is apprentice Zach Gosney, who joined the program three years ago and is now 22 years old. He became aware of the apprenticeship opportunity at Mazak while studying electrical technology in high school at the J.D. Patton Career and Technical Center in Kentucky’s Kenton County school district. He will be one of the program’s first graduates, completing the four years in December 2014.
The Mazak apprenticeship has provided Zach wide-ranging experience; “I’ve been through almost every area you can be in QTN (QUICK TURN NEXUS turning centers),” he said. “I’ve been through power on, aligning, unit assembly, options, now I am in runoff. Runoff is the final stage of all the assemblies, before final inspection. It involves checking all the axes, making sure all the measurements are good and that the options do their job properly, and doing all the final tests on the machine before it goes to final inspection and gets shipped out the door.”
The apprentices in the runoff area perform troubleshooting, and if they run into a problem they fix it. At the end of this apprenticeship, we want them to be able, if necessary, to build a machine by themselves.
These apprenticeship programs are important, whether they be with Mazak or a different company, because there is such a shortage of people interested in manufacturing. Programs like apprenticeships will recruit more people into the field. We give the apprentices the skills and education that they need to develop a career in manufacturing. They are going to end up with a degree, a full-time job, and a career.
When the apprenticeship is complete, Zach said, “We have a two-year contract to stay at Mazak. I don’t plan on leaving after the two years. Mazak’s philosophy is to get people to come on here and not want to leave. Mazak is trying to get apprenticeships built up so that when their workforce does retire they will have all the skilled workers they need.”
About the Author
Angela is the employment manager for Mazak Corporation and has been with the company for 6 years. She is responsible for all recruitment. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family.