Where the apprenticeship is particularly useful, Horwarth says, is in developing trouble-shooting skills.

"It is one thing to be able to assemble a product and apply the electrical and all the elements to the product, but it is another thing when you build a product and it doesn't operate the way you want it to. To troubleshoot the product and understand why it is doing what it is doing, that takes a lot of skill and experience," he says. "You don't learn those in a classroom."

Horwarth says the company has been pleased with the quality of the apprentices. He knows of a single apprentice who turned out not to be a good employee and was let go. Horwarth then shared the story of a seasoned MAG installer who was doing a job in Russia, with an apprentice at his side. On his own initiative, the installer sent an email to MAG's human resources vice president to rave about the talent of the apprentice.

"It's those kinds of testimonials that say it's working," he says.

Costs Down: Capabilities Up

What's the gauge of a training program's success? One gauge may be its spreading deployment throughout an organization. That is what is happening with Toyota's U.S. Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program, a dual work/study program aimed at developing multiskilled maintenance technicians. It delivers an associate's degree to graduates upon successful completion as well as the potential for more advanced training, paid internships and full-time employment at Toyota.

The program, piloted at the automaker's Georgetown plant in 2002-2003, was set aside for several years before being reintroduced there in 2010. Since then it has spread to Toyota's West Virginia plant, which will welcome its first recruits this fall, and planning is under way to implement it at Toyota's Indiana and Mississippi locations.

Students in Toyota's AMT program attend classes two days a week at a partnering community college and work three days a week at Toyota, with pay. Not only do they receive training in such technical areas as fluid power, motors and controls, but their factory experience also includes a stint in production before moving into maintenance. As students progress through the program, they also learn problem-solving and lean-manufacturing practices, communication skills and desired work behaviors.

The Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative has assisted in developing a curriculum for the program. AMTEC is a partnership among multiple automakers, including Toyota, Ford, General Motors and BMW, and several dozen community colleges.

"We may compete on the sales floor, but we can unite on developing people," says Toyota's Parker of the collaboration among competitors.

Parker says the first metrics coming in for the maintenance training program show promise: The costs to develop talent are dropping while the capabilities of the recruits are increasing. Training costs are declining, he says, because a) students pay their own college fees while pursuing an attractive educational program and b) the wages students earn are dollars Toyota would have spent for the work under any circumstance.

Seven of eight graduates who were offered full-time internships accepted the opportunity. Approximately 20 additional students were slated to graduate in early May.

Graduates of the AMT program are not guaranteed jobs at Toyota. Both business conditions and graduates' performances on additional tests factor in future Toyota employment. But Parker says, "Our anticipation is that our retention percentage will be very high."

More concerning to Parker is the dearth of recent high school students with the skills -- particularly in math -- needed to qualify for the AMT program. While the automaker would like its potential recruits to achieve a 23 on the math portion of the ACT college entrance exam to qualify for the Advanced Manufacturing Technician program, currently it does not ("or else we wouldn't have enough applicants," Parker says). Toyota set a purposely high math threshold, he notes, because analyses it conducted demonstrate higher math skills correlate to higher-performing workers.

While it may be an exaggeration to say higher participation by manufacturers correlates to better training outcomes, a growing number of manufacturers appears to believe that is the case.

Says Permac Industries' Miller: "Business really has to step out of their shells and get involved."

See Also:

Math Skills Required, Why?