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Quality Switch Finds Value in Apprenticeship Program

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NEWTON FALLS, Ohio — As he stands on the manufacturing floor of Quality Switch in Newton Falls and watches a CNC mill drill holes in a sheet of metal, Adam Downing is thankful for being part of the company’s new apprenticeship program.

“It was a deal between me and the company. It’s getting me where I want to be and them getting me where they wanted me,” he said. “This is the first place I’ve worked that’s offered me a chance to get a [journeyman’s] card.”

Right now, Downing and the other apprentices at Trumbull Career and Technical Center are working through their books, learning math and about blueprints, he said. Up next, however, is training on the CNC mills and machinery.

For Downing, after 20 years in the machining trade, little is new, but it’s helping him fine-tune his skills and pick up some extra knowledge along the way. But for the younger apprentices around him, it’s absolutely crucial.

“That’s not a question for me,” he says with a laugh when pressed about what he’s gained from the program. “But for the younger guys like him” – he points to Quality Switch’s other apprentice, Eric Bland – “they’re picking up a lot and learning everything.”

Quality Switch was among the first companies to join the network’s apprenticeship program. Executives approached TCTC, the company’s vice president, Jeremy Sewell, about reviving the manufacturer’s apprenticeship program. When he learned about the forthcoming creation of a regional apprenticeship, Quality Switch decided to participate.

“As a small business, we don’t like to be burdened with paperwork. It was pretty simple to get set up,” he said. “They set up most of the meetings, the paperwork was fill-in-the-blank and the incentive for a small business to have the education paid for was a great benefit.”

Quality Switch has two workers in the apprenticeship program. In its first year, 16 companies in the network brought on 30 apprentices. Next year, the Greater Oh-Penn Manufacturing Apprenticeship Network has set a goal of 25 apprentices at eight companies.

The impetus to join the program, Sewell continued, is an aging workforce on the manufacturing floor.

“These guys aren’t going to retire tomorrow, but we want to be prepared,” he said. “We’re a third-generation company and I want us to continue on, so we’re always looking to the future. To be prepared for the transition, we wanted to get younger employees involved.”

With that in mind, joining an apprentice network “seemed like a perfect fit,” both for the company and the workers joining its ranks. As part of the apprenticeship network, area technical centers have joined with manufacturers to adjust their curricula and requirements.

Most of the adult classes at Trumbull Career and Technical Center are held evenings, with students arriving after work. The vocational school offers apprenticeship classes that fit to students’ schedules, whether it’s taking classes nightly or one a week, said TCTC industrial trades coordinator Bob Liddle. The program adjusts to teach the skills each employer is seeking.

“There are a certain amount of hours that have to be obtained, but some companies want their workers to be more knowledgeable about electrical skills while others want hydraulics and we can work accordingly,” he said. “We can adapt to things that help companies and lay it out the way they want it.”

Of the dozen students TCTC placed in on-the-job training last year, Liddle added, all were asked to stay on as employees when they concluded their education.

“That speaks volumes for the need for qualified people, the quality of training that we’re putting out and the efforts going on between the career center and the MVMC,” Liddle said. “You’re seeing people getting educated, going out and getting well-paying jobs.”

With surge in manufacturing training – along with companies restarting their apprenticeship programs – more companies are looking for workers. That’s led to some competition to hire employees, Sewell said, but hasn’t interfered with the manufacturers coalition goal of getting those in the industry to work together.

“Everyone knows there’s a need,” he said. “If we need something or know anybody’s looking – and we’re not – we pass the resume around to the local members to help everyone along.”

With the success Quality Switch has seen with its first year apprentices, Sewell said his company will continue to participate in bringing younger workers into the fold. And for the veteran employees, that’s a good thing.

“It’s getting people into the trade and getting them to where they really understand what they’re doing,” Downing said. “It gives them that chance to have a career, not just a job.”

Pictured: Greater Oh-Penn Apprenticeship Network’s Jessica Driscoll, Trumbull Career Technical Center coordinator Bob Liddle, apprentices Eric Bland and Adam Downing and Quality Switch Vice President Jeremy Sewell.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.