A new apprentice candidate and an apprentice program graduate marked a celebratory day at the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM) in Kingsport on Wednesday morning.
Northeast State Community College welcomed a capacity crowd of friends and partners to RCAM for a National Apprenticeship Week open house event. Held annually during the second week of November, National Apprenticeship Week highlights how apprenticeship programs prepare American workers for jobs today and in the future.
“I love the apprenticeship model, because it works,” said Dr. Jeff McCord, president of Northeast State.
RCAM staff including McCord worked with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship to create the Group Registered Apprentice Program at the College. The program sought out regional industrial partners to train registered apprentices and fulfill regional workforce needs.
Matt Worrell of Fiber Innovation Technology (FIT) in Johnson City celebrated his graduation as a certified apprentice. Mechantronics combines the mechanical and electrical technology skill sets coveted in manufacturing operations. The pathway requires academic coursework plus 8,000 on-the-job training hours in machinery operations, installation and maintenance.
“My time at RCAM was special, I truly looked forward every day to coming here,” said Worrell who praised the entire RCAM staff for their support. “They kept me headed in the right direction; when I graduate with my associate degree it was at the height of the pandemic, so I didn’t get to be involved in the graduation; this is really special.”
Seth Marshall of J.A. Street and Associates signed his apprenticeship agreement to enter the Metal Building occupational pathway. This path requires apprentices to complete 4,000 on-the-job training hours over the course of two years.
“The need for skilled workers is certainly going to increase in the coming decades as technology progresses, and workers need to be more tech savvy,” said Marshall. “That is certainly an important aspect of continuing education and making sure businesses are profitable and workers are more proficient.”
RCAM staff welcomed representatives from numerous regional workforce partners of Eastman; Silgan Closures; Bell Piney Flats; Primester; A.O. Street; and J.A. Street and Associates. These representatives spoke at length about how the apprenticeship program changed the lives of their workers and their workplace.
Northeast State sponsored their first apprenticeship program in the spring of 2017. The group apprenticeship program approach enables companies of all sizes to take advantage of apprenticeship training, without the burden of managing a company-sponsored program.
Each apprentice candidate completing a sponsored apprenticeship earns a DOL certificate of completion. As the apprenticeship sponsor, RCAM provides the academic structure and training processes for employers. Other registered apprenticeship occupational tracks available through RCAM include Industrial Manufacturing Technician, CNC Machinist and Metal Buildings.
As the former commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, McCord referenced the long-held “skills gap” challenge for employers nationwide. He also noted Northeast State’s active response to address the ongoing shortage of people available to fill many positions.
“As we think about that as a learning institution, we have started that transition to not only educate sequentially but simultaneously with work,” said McCord. “A lot of stories of success and prosperity happen when you do that.”
Beyond curricula and technical labs, RCAM Programs and Services Coordinator Jo Starling shared an anecdote about a student who seemed to be facing long odds of succeeding. RCAM instructor Ron Broadwater met the student where he was in life and helped him move forward. She described observing the student’s transformation as the core mission of RCAM.
“We don’t just provide training,” Starling said. “We develop people.”