Schott North America recently joined the growing number of manufacturing companies that are stepping up to help train the next generation of skilled trade workers. Last month the Elmsford, N.Y.-based maker of special glass and glass systems announced the launch of its pilot U.S. apprenticeship program at its Duryea, Pa., production facility. There, eight apprentices are training in one of three trades – glass operator generalist, mason-metalsmith and maintenance machinist. The programs span two or three years, depending on the trade.
While the launch of the apprentice program is recent, recognition of the approaching skills shortage dates back some four years, according to Gerry Barnes, director of human resources for Schott North America. That's when a demographic study of the Pennsylvania location clearly revealed the aging of the workforce in Duryea.
The average age of the approximately 250 employees is 53. Over the next five years, the facility will lose about 30% of its workforce if those employees elect to retire around age 65, according to Barnes.
"We are going to be losing people pretty steadily," Barnes says. In addition, he said the technical skills required of production workers at the Duryea plant, part of Schott's advanced optics business unit, are neither commonplace nor easily learned.
Serious discussion about an apprenticeship program began some two years ago – during union negotiations, no less. Production workers at Duryea are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers International.
Progress toward the program began with the creation of an eight-member training team. Comprised of three salaried, supervisory employees and five production workers, the team assisted in the development of the apprenticeship program and monitors it today. Their early efforts included a team trip to Germany in 2011, where Schott North America's parent company is located and has a thriving apprentice program.
While patterned after the German model of apprenticeship, Schott North America's approach has been adapted to meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as other factors. The program includes full-time employment and benefits, on-the-job training with mentors, rotation through a variety of departments, and classroom training, both online and in partnership with local educational institutions. Apprentices who successfully complete the program will receive their Labor Department journeyman's certification. Apprentices are not part of the union.