Allentown Economic Development Corporation

Monthly Archives: January 2019

Training the next generation of manufacturing technicians at LCTI

Photo taken at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in North Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Smith)

It’s the role of educational institutions to prepare students for careers, which often meant directing them on a path towards college. But in the past decade, it has become apparent that there is a need to shift focus from directing every high school student toward a four-year degree to jobs in the trades. The past focus on getting a college education meant that fewer students went to trade schools and entered the industry. That, coupled with an aging workforce already in the trades, has left a dearth in not only the number of employees needed for skilled labor, like machining technicians and mechatronics specialists, but it has also left a skill set gap that can only be filled through time spent in training on the job earning experience. 

One way that career and technical schools are helping to prepare their students for the working world is through the use of internships, cooperative education programs, and pre-apprenticeship programs. These critical programs allow students to put the skills they have learned at a technical school to use in the workplace under the guidance of a mentor who trains them.

At Lehigh Career & Technical Institute in Schnecksville, Executive Director Dr. Thomas Rushton and Jan Brna, Director Postsecondary & Workforce Education, utilize a combination of job shadowing, internships for sophomores and juniors, and a cooperative education program for seniors to give students on-the-job training at local manufacturers. But the school hopes to add a formal pre-apprenticeship program to the mix in the near future.

“We recently applied for a PAsmart grant to help us establish a formal pre-apprenticeship program,” explained Brna. “Our school already has the curriculum in place, so we will develop a competency task list to align with an apprenticeship program, allowing students to receive credit for their learning and to enter a registered apprenticeship program with an advanced standing.” 

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry materials on pre-apprenticeship programs, they “…lay the foundation for future apprentices by preparing qualified candidates with academic knowledge and skills training tailored to specific jobs and industries.” 

“All of these training programs allow the students to achieve proficiency in developing their basic skill sets, safety protocols, and soft skills, which allow them to learn new skills on the job,” said Dr. Rushton. 

LCTI instructors sign off on each student who enters the co-op program to verify that they are ready to work. Co-op experiences have to be earned by the student based on their performance in school. Once at a manufacturer, they are assigned a mentor to oversee them on a daily basis and to guide their experience. 

Working with local manufacturers

An LCTI student receives training at B. Braun Medical thru the school’s co-op education program.

The overwhelming demand for skilled labor means that LCTI doesn’t have to go looking for manufacturers to participate in their training programs. “We get calls daily from all types of manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley asking if they can participate and letting us know they have openings,” Dr. Rushton explained. “They want first dibs on the talented workers LCTI is developing, because if the student has aptitude and potential, the manufacturer at which they do their co-op can then become their apprenticeship, and eventually hire them as an employee. Approximately 80-85 percent of co-op students stay with their manufacturer after graduation. It’s not unusual for our graduating seniors to have multiple job offers waiting for them.”

With so many willing manufacturers at their disposal, it also means that students can more or less have their pick of internship and co-op assignments based on interest and availability. Some of the local companies participating with LCTI include B. Braun Medical, Air Products, East Penn Manufacturing, and Mack Trucks. 

Representatives from many local manufacturers sit on LCTI’s Occupational Advisory Council that guides the educational programs taught at the school. This allows them to have a direct impact on what today’s students are learning so that LCTI is training them properly to enter the workforce upon graduation.

Lehigh Valley manufacturers also come to LCTI to meet with students and do presentations on their companies to create awareness and generate interest. “The manufacturers make an effort to connect with students, especially those who are developing skill sets that the manufacturer badly needs, like machining for instance,” explained Brna. 

Pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships also play an important role in reducing employee turnover since these programs help to manage the expectations of the student on the type of work they will be doing and the environment in which they will be doing it. They are immersed in the company’s environment while they hone their skills. They are also earning and learning at the same time since seniors in the co-op program are paid. 

Getting an advanced education

“Approximately 60-70 percent of our students go onto a post-secondary education,” said Brna. Articulation agreements with area institutions of higher education help to ensure that students in pre-apprenticeship programs earn college credit that they can use to further their education. Some LCTI students also have dual enrollment with Lehigh Carbon Community College, which shares a campus with LCTI. An example would be metalworking skills, which are dictated by the NIMS credentials and are national standards, so they need to be learned by all students in that field. Each credential can equal three credits at a local community college. 

“Since achieving certain skill sets is directly related to your apprenticeship level, which in return impacts your pay, with proper advance training a student can bypass certain levels and earn more sooner,” said Brna. 

Looking to the future of manufacturing careers

Photo taken at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute in North Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Smith)

In the coming year LCTI expects to expand with a new welding lab and precision machining shop to help better educate its students.

“We’re just starting to stem the loss of the skilled trades people who have started retiring, more of which will be happening in the coming years, by training up the students who are now entering the workforce to replace them,” said Dr. Rushton. 

“We need to continue debunking the myth of what manufacturing careers are like today. Modern manufacturing is very different than the factories of the past. They are totally different facilities now and offer good career opportunities for today’s young people. Properly trained and experienced students can get jobs earning in the middle $30,000s at just 18 years of age. The more we can get that out to the students, parents, counselors, and educators the better.” 

Advanced education through community college internships and pre-apprenticeships

When students who graduate from a local career and technical institute want additional training and career preparation, they often head to Lehigh Carbon Community College or Northampton Community College. Each college takes a similar yet different approach to the programs they offer, which get students out of the classroom and into the manufacturing world for hands-on experience.

LCCC’s Pre-Apprenticeship Approach

The Advanced Manufacturing Program begins with production technician training, which is done through a hybrid program that combines 200 hours of online learning and classroom time to reinforce basic theory, preventative maintenance and soft skills. Once the theory coursework is completed, students take a hands-on test at the main campus after they have worked with industry standard advance manufacturing equipment under the direction of a college instructor. 

From there students choose a program track, including industrial electrician technician, industrial automation technician, industrial mechanical technician, mechatronics, programmable logic controllers, and FANUC robotics. Program completion earns them a certificate which qualifies them for a variety of entry-level careers such as machine operators, production technician and mechatronics technician. 

Students then have the option of moving into the pre-apprenticeship program which is also a hybrid of 16 weekly classes and online coursework. Students learn electrical and mechanical fabrication, production assembly, preventative maintenance, basic math and measurement tools and communication skills, and receive OSHA 10 certification. LCCC partners with Mack Trucks and Ocean Spray for the onsite training that students receive.

“At LCCC we’re not just training recent high school graduates but also have people who are looking for a career change or are presently unemployed and looking to acquire new skill sets in order to help them find work,” explained Tom Bux, Director of Workforce Development at LCCC. “We work with manufacturers who send their employees here for further education and to learn new skill sets. We can even do customized training for employers who want to send several team members here to target specific skill areas.” 

Bux estimates that 25-30 percent of LCCC students in the Advanced Manufacturing Program either come to the field with no manufacturing background at all or are being upskilled to advance their career. Industrial automation is the top track for workers being upskilled.

“Pre-apprenticeship programs today focus on employees getting an outside education at a community college that is tied into the larger curriculum that provides them with the framework of what skills they need to learn,” Bux said. “And learning more skills leads to a different apprenticeship level, which leads to a bump in pay.”

The pre-apprenticeship program at LCCC has rolling entry so new students can start at any time. “Our program prepares you to be a lifelong learner, and that’s important because it’s something employers want to see in new hires,” said Bux. “With modern manufacturing you don’t just learn the job once and done. New technology means you have to keep learning on a regular basis to stay up to speed on the equipment you are using every day. And our teachers prepare workers who expect that learning to continue.”

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been supporting the growth of both pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs through programs launched a few years ago. PAsmart Pre-Apprenticeship Programs establish a connection to an existing apprenticeship program and deliver both hands-on and instructional-based learning which allow students to earn industry-recognized credentials, while providing manufacturers with pre-screened, ready-to-work employees who have been trained in the specific skilled they are hiring for. Such programs are also credited with reducing employee turnover rates by as much as 50 percent.

NCC’s Internship Approach

Kenneth Nasatka, Interim Director for the Center for Advanced and Industrial Technology, said that NCC offers internships at local manufacturers for its students. The internships, which are different than an apprenticeship, offer short-term temporary work experiences for a fixed period of time. If the student does well during the internship, they could be offered full-time or part-time employment with the manufacturer. 

“We have companies that offer internships primarily over the summer break, or they will work around the student’s schedule if their need is immediate,” explained Nasatka. “We also have companies coming to us with part-time or full-time employment opportunities. We find we have more employment opportunities than we have graduating students.”

NCC’s Applied Quality & Standards AAS, Construction Management AAS, Electromechanical Technology AAS, Electrical Technology AAS, and HVAC/R AAS programs have a 120-hour practicum requirement for graduation. Students are also required to complete a work shadowing experience that is related to their field of study, and they have to complete a daily log of experiences during the practicum, two research papers, and a presentation. 

The college has articulation agreements in place with local vocational technical schools, which allows some high school students to be eligible for college credits depending on what courses they completed while at the technical school. 

“We also have quite a few incumbents, as well as displaced workers, attending both our credit and noncredit courses,” said Nasatka. 

Northampton Community College offers local manufacturers the opportunity to present to respective students about what a career at their company would comprise and what positions they are currently looking to fill.  

All students are encouraged to do an internship if they are available because it gives them the opportunity to use the skills they learned in college in the workforce. Some students are not able to do an internship due to working a part-time or full-time job while attending college, or because of course load requirements for financial aid. 

“Students who complete a successful internship have an advantage over those who don’t, especially with the company they were interning with,” he explained. “The students add the internship experience on their resume, so it does give them an advantage when applying for employment. Currently, there are over 110 local companies that we know of that have hired graduates of the NCC Industry and Manufacturing Programs.”

Northampton Community College’s Industry and Manufacturing department offers eight Specialized Diplomas (two semesters), six certificate programs (three semesters) and nine Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) degrees (four semesters). Most of the Associate in Applied Sciences degrees are stackable, so the student could graduate with a Specialized Diploma and join the workforce.  If the student decides to return to NCC to complete his or her studies for the Certificate or Associate in Applied Sciences degree, they would start with the next semester coursework and not lose any credits. All of the Associate in Applied Sciences degrees allow the students to do internships. Five of the nine Associate in Applied Sciences degrees require a 120-hour internship to complete the practicum requirement.

Getting ahead through hands-on career experience in manufacturing

Demco Manufacturing Apprentice Jeremy Howard

Arguably the best way to prepare someone to enter the manufacturing field is through early training in the workforce. That can come in the form of an internship, cooperative education program, pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship. These programs provide students with the chance to use the skills they learned at a career and technical school or community college under the direction and guidance of a mentor. 

We spoke with three local manufacturers taking advantage of these programs to learn about their experiences, and how the programs benefit them as well as the students:

Demco Automation

Demco became involved with several local career and technical institutes when Stephen Maund was invited to become a member of their Occupational Advisory Committees which guide the subject matter being taught at those schools. He approached Lehigh Career and Technical Institute to request candidates in the cooperative education program to work at his company, and in 2018 received his first student. Demco also worked with engineering students from local colleges and universities like Lafayette College and Lehigh University.

“Internships and cooperative education programs that we have worked with help to prepare the student through real-world scenarios that are difficult to replicate in academia,” explained Maund. “There is nothing like working through a project, challenge, or simple task when others are depending upon your success. Putting the skills they’ve acquired in school to use is priceless and what employers are looking for in a candidate.”

Co-op students, such as the ones in the Machining Technologies program at LCTI, work on skills that go towards earning NIMS Credits, which are developed skills standards in 24 operational areas covering the breadth of metalworking operations, which are required to complete an accredited apprenticeship. LCTI students work half days, whereas college students work full time in the summer or during the semester. 

“While the students have two primary supervisors, we have a very intertwined team and the students interact with all areas of our business,” said Maund. So far Demco has hired one student from a technical school and two engineering students from colleges as permanent team members. 

When asked if there were any success stories from the co-op program, Maund shared this: “Our first co-op student, Jeremy Howard, has been a real success story. He was a co-op student in the first half of 2018, and we were excited to hire him as a full-time permanent team member upon graduation. We found him to be a real team player that had basic machining skills learned at LCTI. Not only are his abilities and efficiency improving every day, he is now training to be a Machine Builder. This means that he is not only machining the parts that make up our robotic systems, but he is also building and assembling them. Without LCTI’s machining technologies training, he would not have the skills to be a valued professional at Demco Automation.”

B.Braun Medical

B. Braun Medical Apprentice Yamil Negron practices his machining skills.

John Keefe, Mold Shop Manager for B. Braun Medical in Allentown, has spent more than 40 years in manufacturing and in that time, he’s worked with a lot of apprentices. So, he knows how to train them and what makes a good one.

Keefe thinks it was about 20 years ago when he and his colleagues realized that they weren’t able to replace themselves professionally due to the decline in vo-tech enrollment. “It’s getting harder every year to find the right group of students for the program. The jobs are getting more complex than ever before. It’s critical that employees have good math skills, especially trigonometry.”

So the company started a state-approved apprenticeship program in 2017 and works with LCTI, Career and Technology Institute and Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School to recruit students. It also applies for state grants to support the apprenticeship program. In 2018 it received $166,000, and is requesting $256,000 for 2019 funds, which would be used in-part for special equipment that the students can use to learn without risking damaging company equipment in the event an error is made. 

The B. Braun program begins with a summer cooperative education program. Students then have the opportunity to move on to the apprenticeship program if they have learned the necessary skills to advance and show potential. Once an apprenticeship is completed, they can become a journeyman, a position which involves 8,000 hours on the job. 

“New hires for tool and die maker or mold maker positions take over a decade of training, mentoring and apprenticeship to be fully trained up,” said Keefe. “A tool and die technician is one of the highest paying positions we have at this site, starting at about $36,000 a year after high school/vo-tech graduation, and there is a reason for that. It’s due to the time and skill that goes into repairing the existing molds and machinery.” 

This past summer’s LCTI and BAVTS co-op program students both did well and have stayed on as new employees. Each apprentice is assigned a mentor who selects the daily work the student will do and closely supervises them. Mentors are hand selected based on their own knowledge base and skills, plus their communication skills to guide a new, often much younger employee. 

“A lot of what we do here isn’t written down anywhere in a book,” explained Keefe. “It comes from experience learned on the job over time. It comes from understanding the level of complexity that goes into this job. That is why it’s critical for an apprentice to have a firm understanding of the basic skills of this trade. They will face change every day and need to be able to adapt for it. We don’t want button pushers. They need to be able to diagnose problems through critical thinking and collaboration.”

B. Braun Machinist Rick Meyle previously owned his own shop before working for the company. Now he acts as a mentor in the apprenticeship program. “I love working with the students coming into the trade and teaching them. I take them under my wing and show them all I can because ultimately they are going to replace me one day.”

B. Braun Medical Machinist and Mentor John Pavlinsky works with Apprentice Jacob Baia.

Meyle is currently mentoring LCTI grad and former co-op student Jacob Baia, who is now an apprentice at B. Braun, being hired as a permanent employee in June 2018. “This trade was a good fit for me because I like math and working with metal,” Baia said. “I especially like precision machining.” Meyle decides what Baia works on each day and does his best to challenge the apprentice with something he hasn’t done before. “I want to make it a work experience that they will want to stick with,” said Meyle. 

GR Electric

Gil Resto founded GR Electric in 2006 and managed to grow his fledgling commercial and industrial electric business through the recession, becoming a limited liability corporation in 2009. Today it has 15-18 full time employees and is based in Whitehall. It’s a merit shop which pays employees based on merit and performance. 

“I want to hire good people. I can teach them the trade if needed, but they have to be good people to begin with,” explained Resto. “I want all A’s on my team, so I deliberately keep it small and focused. After all, I’m not just the boss but I am their mentor too. We have low staff turnover and I’m really proud of that because I think it means that we choose well and treat them good.”

His apprentices start during the summer of their junior year in high school and work full-time. The ones he hires on permanently experience a four-year apprenticeship to become a journeyman, and then move on to becoming a master electrician like he is. Apprentices aren’t just assigned to a single GR Electric employee for mentoring, but instead work with all of the team in a group mentoring approach.

“We push them to see what they can do, to see if they can take direction,” explained Resto. “It costs us $10,000 to get a new employee onboarded and trained up. More of the new hires succeed than fail because we vet them thoroughly on the front end. We like to think long term when we hire someone. It’s less of an ‘I’ and more of a ‘we’ situation.” 

Like Maund, Resto sits on OAC’s for local vocational technical schools. “I want to help them adjust their curriculum before the old technology is replaced so that students are learning what is actually being used in the workplace,” he said. He enjoys talking to students about his business and careers in the electrical industry. Resto also encourages job shadowing for younger students to expose them to what his industry is like so that can determine if it is a good fit for them.

“I think all schools should be teaching leadership skills earlier in students’ educations, not waiting until they are about to graduate so that way, they grow up with it. We also need to do more to help educate parents on what an apprenticeship is really all about and why their child should do one.” 

AEDC Presents Organization Overview to City Council Committee

Scott Unger of AEDC presents to Allentown City Council’s committee members.

In 2019, Allentown Economic Development Corporation will celebrate its 40thanniversary. Since its founding in 1979, AEDC has focused its mission on improving vacant and underutilized properties in the Queen City in order to create an environment where manufacturers and other companies can flourish and grow.

At the request of Allentown City Council Member Courtney Robinson, AEDC Executive Director Scott Unger gave a presentation to the Community and Economic Development Committee of City Council to help ensure that more council members knew all that AEDC was doing to bring manufacturing jobs to the region, as well as to reuse existing manufacturing sites.

Robinson had recently met with Unger and received a tour of the AEDC offices and Bridgeworks Enterprise Center so he could become better acquainted with the nonprofit organization and what it does in the community.

“I asked Scott to give a presentation to the Community and Economic Development Committee of Allentown City Council because the role that AEDC plays is vital to the economy in Allentown,” said Robinson. “I felt it was important for the committee and the general public to be shown the full scope of AEDC’s mission and to understand not only the work being done presently, but the amazing success stories that AEDC has already written.”

For the first time in 11 years, Unger provided a general presentation on AEDC to City Council, which included an overview of the organization’s three primary programs: property management and land development, business incubation at Bridgeworks, and the business retention and expansion programs.

The presentation covered the basic organization structure of AEDC, as well as the Allentown Commercial and Industrial Development Authority that is also staffed and funded by AEDC. He provided a summary of the four state and local economic development loan funds that AEDC manages, and an overview of completed projects, along with an update on current projects, including Allentown Metal Works and the Klein Building.

Unger explained that AEDC helped return approximately 30-plus acres of vacant or underutilized properties to productive use without adding any public rights of way. Of its $1.58 million-dollar 2018-2019 operating budget, less than 2 percent ($32,500) is supported by public funds, while it pays more than $145,000 in annual real estate taxes and stormwater fees. 

“I had two goals for the presentation,” explained Unger. “I wanted to clarify AEDC’s role and relationship with the city as a separate nonprofit entity, and also demonstrate that the organization is primarily funded by private dollars and not by the city itself. I think many people in attendance at the presentation were surprised and interested to learn that. And when it comes to business incubation, our focus on manufacturing means that our incubator is the least common type, and arguably the toughest kind, of business incubation to execute. And we do it exceptionally well with almost zero public or private financial support!”

Eight private sector and seven public sector representatives serve on the AEDC Board of Directors, including the Mayor of the City of Allentown, the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development Director and a City Council representative. The composition of the board makes AEDC an effective private-public partnership with the local business leaders, the City of Allentown, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, and Lehigh County.

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