Words like “apprentice” and “manufacturing” may sound like something from a history lesson to some teens, but they’re discovering those could be their future.
Last week eight rising juniors and seniors toured five local businesses to see some of today’s career options as part of “Dream It. Do It. Tennessee,” encouraging young people to join the advanced manufacturing workforce.
On June 6, they visited AESSEAL in Rockford, which presently has about 90 employees and is training workers for a third shift.
The North American headquarters for a business based in the United Kingdom designs and makes mechanical seals, a key component in areas ranging from hot tubs to petrochemical plants.
The business uses computer-aided manufacturing and needs workers with the skills to run CNC (computer numeric control) machines that mill the high-precision parts as well as to design custom parts with software such as Solid Edge.
Accuracy is so critical that a part’s measurements must be within 1/1,000 of an inch—one-fourth the depth of a sheet of paper, Burt Galbraith explained to the students in AESSEAL’s quality assurance department.
During the week students also visited DENSO, Arconic, Newell Rubbermaid and Del Conca, a tile manufacturer in Loudon.
In the afternoons at Pellissippi State Community College in Friendsville the students had hands-on opportunities to work with some of the things they saw in the workplace, like Programmable Logic Controllers and LabVIEW engineering software.
The Young Manufacturers Academy was one of the activities funded by a $25,000 grant the Arconic Foundation awarded to Pellissippi State last year.
The community college has been spreading the message of “Dream It. Do It. Tennessee,” co-founded by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services.
In May about 450 middle school students visited the Friendsville campus for Career Exploration Days, with hands-on activities in science, technology, engineering and math designed to pique their interest in pathways from school to college and careers.
Pellissippi State also offered stipends to high school teachers who worked with their students to visit middle schools and recruit students into exploring careers.
Most of the manufacturers in last week’s tour have programs with Pellissippi State that help workers advance in their career.
When Emily Pennington, AESSEAL’s human resources manager, asked students in the Young Manufacturers Academy if they had heard of apprenticeships, one replied, “Not in modern times.”
AESSEAL offers one-year apprentice programs in machining, engineering and business, during which participants work 20 hours a week at the company and attend classes.
In exchange for their education, apprentices agree to meet program standards, such as a 2.5 GPA, and work full-time for the company for two years after completing the apprenticeship.
While they are in school, their work schedule is determined by their class schedule.
“It’s much better than working at Taco Bell, I promise you that,” Pennington said.
With the combination of classroom and workplace experience, she said, “You get to see how what you’re learning is applied.”
Todd Evans, director of workforce solutions for Pellissippi State, told the students that apprenticeship programs are a “sweet deal.”
“You’re earning while you’re learning,” he said.