Looking to the past for a solution to the future.
America has a serious skilled trades shortage. Thousands of high-paying jobs are going unfilled and at Think Patented we were experiencing this issue first hand as we struggled to fill key production positions. We finally determined that the best way to find qualified and motivated workers for our production lines was to create them ourselves. So, in order to define the future of our business, we looked into the past.
While “on-the-job training” is still common in medical and similar fields, apprenticeships are all but forgotten in today’s high-tech, automated production companies. But there was once a time when every woodworker, machinist, horse trainer, shop keeper, attorney, or accountant would take on apprentices who, usually without formal education, learned the job from the masters to become the next generation of professional, skilled tradespeople.
Our Apprenticeship Training Program is designed to prepare individuals for occupations in all phases of our industry. From creative development to production operations and on to quality control and fulfillment, building a highly skilled and dedicated workforce is vital to the survival of any industry, and ours is no different. Rather than wait for the industry, educators, or the government to find a solution, we did it ourselves.
Many industries have dropped training programs because they believe the cost outweighs the benefits. It is our contention that this could not be further from the truth. Given the extreme expense of searching for already skilled employees and paying advanced wages only to find it is the wrong fit, the cost benefit of an apprenticeship becomes crystal clear.
Result: Zachary Fyffe, Think Patented’s First Graduate Apprentice
Zachary Fyffe started as a temporary production employee in October of 2015. After demonstrating an uncommon style and work ethic he was brought into our newly-created apprenticeship program less than six months later.
Originally, he was brought in just to load the stitching machine, moving materials around and packing. After two years of training, he has a full-time, highly skilled position doing full set-ups, maintenance, and quality control.
The program was created partly out of necessity and partly because it seemed the ideal scenario for Zachary’s talents. He would be the test case, giving him a unique opportunity to help us develop a plan to train the talent we needed, giving them a personal stake in the success of our company.
In the first four months of his new program, Zachary was tasked with learning the proper way to load pockets on the stitcher, followed by an equal amount of training time on how to set up the pockets and cover deck. Over the next 16 months, Zachary was taught how to set up and time the trimmer / stitching unit / chain and stacker. By the end of his last year, he had also been taught how to do knife changes and perform other maintenance on the machine and is now fully trained in its operation.
During the program, Zachary worked with 2 skilled operators with more than 35 years of combined experience on the stitching equipment. Jim Brown, Post Press Manager, has been Zachary’s supervisor throughout this process. After 19 years with Think Patented, Jim’s experience was vital to the success of this program. As he advanced through each stage of his training, he was evaluated, at first informally and later with more specificity. His progression to the next stage was dependent on his performance in mastering each level.
Along with Jim and the two other operators, Zachary worked with many other people from within the company. An apprenticeship is not just about mechanical operations and proper quality checks, it’s about people and how well they suit the job and adapt to the company culture and surroundings – and their fellow workers. Zachary says that there was no better place to work and was excited about the program from the onset. His attitude, even when he made mistakes, was positive and motivating for himself, his coworkers and his supervisors.
Summary: Where Do We Go from Here?
Zachary is set for a lifelong career, if he so chooses, and we have a well-trained, dedicated, Think Patented employee. It’s a win-win for all sides so it is our intention to continue this program.
It is important to keep in mind that the success of a program like this is dependent on three things:
- Long-term Need for the Position
- Expertise of the Trainers
- Aptitude and Attitude of the Apprentice.
Learning to handle a piece of specialized equipment in any industry takes time, much like learning a musical instrument or mastering a new language. It takes time and dedication both on the part of the candidate and the employer. No one is perfect, and each apprentice will bring his or her own set of skills and aptitudes. It is our job to properly identify those attributes and provide the means for success through proper training – even if that means allowing the apprentice to fail once in a while. Only by failure can some of the best learning take place.
We believe, particularly in this first case scenario with Zachary, that all of those components came together in just the right quantities. But the Apprenticeship Program will be a living, breathing process and will change as we learn the best ways to proceed. It must also be structured but flexible, to be sure we choose the right candidate and best combination of apprentice, master, and equipment.
Conclusion: Really, It’s Just the beginning.
An apprenticeship may not be necessary for every position, but in our world of high-quality, expedited production, it is vital that we maintain a method for acquiring the best-trained, most motivated employees. We also believe that this program helps to create and maintain a culture of success at Think Patented for every position on the production floor. We believe the best is yet to come.
If you or someone you know may be interested in applying for our apprenticeship program at Think Patented, call us at 937-353-2299 or visit our website. An exciting, new opportunity might be waiting for you behind our doors!