Streamlined apprenticeship regulations aimed to meet need for committed workers with advanced skills

Feb. 14, 2018
Obtaining a federal stamp of approval for your company’s apprenticeship program is en route to becoming less of a top-down bureaucratic ordeal under an executive order issued last year by President Donald Trump.

Obtaining a federal stamp of approval for your company’s apprenticeship program is en route to becoming less of a top-down bureaucratic ordeal under an executive order issued last year by President Donald Trump.

These reforms of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) apprenticeship “registration” procedures – equivalent to official “certification” and eligibility for governmental support – are placing more emphasis on industry-specific standards developed by relevant entities such as trade organizations, labor unions and individual business owners.

The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) has been active in lobbying for this shift in policy on behalf of its Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA), the Motor & Equipment Remanufacturers Association (MERA) and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA).

In a letter sent to the White House and other officials, MEMA President and CEO Steve Handschuh pointed out that “apprenticeship programs are important to vehicle suppliers that must acquire and retain highly skilled workers. MEMA members are involved in all areas of STEM education, including robotics, mentoring, internships and apprenticeships.”

Partnerships have been formed with colleges, technical schools, state educational agencies, local communities and private organizations. “Supplier companies involved in apprenticeship programs range from very large, global corporations with multiple facilities to local, small manufacturers with a limited number of facilities,” according to Handschuh.

“The advent of a major technology shift in transportation has underscored the need for trained workers requiring both traditional and advanced manufacturing skills. These programs must be expanded and amplified to meet the needs of the industry for a skilled and committed workforce,” he told Trump. “Your leadership will make the necessary expansion possible.”

Nearly 30 percent of MEMA’s overall member firms currently host a DOL-registered apprenticeship program, according to a survey conducted by the association in August. “We know this number is actually higher, as many companies reported that they have active apprentice programs for specific trades that involve paid college classes and on-the-job-training, but they are not registered with the DOL,” says AASA President and COO Bill Long, who is also executive vice president of MEMA’s Government Affairs Committee.

“Companies might not register their programs with the DOL because of the onerous administrative requirements called for under the current program, which is why we are advocating for streamlined administrative processes, flexibility in the types of apprenticeship programs and the ability to add more apprenticeship programs for broader occupations beyond the traditional programs,” Long tells Aftermarket Business World. “Some of the trades that our members have apprenticeship programs for include tool & die, maintenance – mechanical & electrical, technicians, IT and mechatronics.”

Lowering the level of governmental involvement is expected to raise industry participation in the registration process. “Our members, like manufacturers in other industries, report a growing skills gap and continued challenges to fill critical skilled positions,” says Long.

“Given the high demand and short supply for skilled labor, our member companies are finding that increased training is an important part of the solution,” he adds. “Internal training programs, including the ‘learn and earn’-type programs that apprenticeships offer, help companies mitigate the labor shortage and the loss of talent caused by turnover and retirements.”

Finding the right fit

NAPA-affiliated McNeil’s Auto Repair in Sandy, Utah began an apprentice program three years ago, and achieving registration under the existing DOL regulations at that time “took a lot of effort and work to put together,” reports shop foreman Jacob Sorensen, citing competitive concerns in declining to reveal proprietary details about the company’s precise path to registration.

The end result, however, “has worked out very well for us,” he says. “As with the rest of the industry we have a shortage of technicians, and we’ve been able to bring people in through our program.” The in-house apprenticeship standards were put together mostly through a “trial and error” process. “We have honed it out so that everything is written down and everyone knows what’s expected.”

McNeil’s typically carries about four apprentices at a time. “It’s a competency-based program, and it lasts roughly two years,” says Sorensen. “We’ve had a pretty good success rate” regarding completion of the coursework; managers usually realize within the first three months of instruction if a candidate isn’t going to work out.

Efforts are made to find the right fit during the recruitment process. “We look for someone who’s already employed here in another division who has done well,” Sorensen explains. Promising applicants from outside the company are also considered.

“In the very beginning they do tire rotation, change tires, do oil changes, run errands and clean up the shop,” he says. Responsibilities and skills increase as the apprentice progresses through the program.

A firm foundation

Evolving from Trump’s reform-minded executive order in June, Service King achieved DOL registration of its 52-week Apprentice Development Program in December, making the chain eligible to receive federal workforce and education funds to reinvest into growing the endeavor.

“This is certainly a proud moment for the Service King family as we continue investing in the development and training of the next generation of skilled automotive technicians,” says CEO Chris Abraham. “The Apprentice Development Program has long been a vision of our company, and we couldn’t be more proud to see its growth across the country. It’s our mission to equip aspiring technicians with a firm foundation of quality training, hands-on experience and ultimately a long, rewarding career as a Service King teammate.”

Capped at four apprentices per instructor at each shop, it features personalized side-by-side training alongside an Apprentice Supervisor solely dedicated to the program, which features “an immersive and proprietary curriculum that promotes a focused learning environment.”

Mechanics-as-technologists

Mercedes-Benz collaborated with both the DOL and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – along with an assortment of State Approving Agencies (SAA) – in gaining approval of its DRIVE Registered Apprenticeship Program.

Veteran and non-veteran apprentices alike receive training in core competencies such as brakes & traction, service & maintenance, telematics, e-mobility, diagnostic strategy and electrical fundamentals. The students also take a course in career development to assist with transitioning them into the industry.

“The complexity of our current and future luxury vehicles, along with significant sales growth, has created a strong and growing need for skilled, professional technicians,” notes Christian Treiber, vice president of customer service. “Mechanics are now technologists with a high level of sophistication. With an eye towards the future, Mercedes-Benz has mapped out a new path that makes technician jobs attractive to veterans as well as providing much-needed assets for dealerships.”

DRIVE is offered at four locations across the country: Long Beach, Calif.; Dallas; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Norwood, Mass.

Upon graduating from the program’s “hands-on and instructional learning” curriculum, the apprentices receive a certificate from the automaker and the DOL. The certifications, recognized at all authorized Mercedes-Benz service centers throughout the U.S., signify that the apprentice has successfully completed more than 640 hours of manufacturer-specific training.

In May of last year U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta toured BMW’s Munich apprenticeship training facility to study some of the best practices utilized by Germany’s globally renowned vocational education initiatives as part of a Joint Declaration of Intent signed by the two nations.

BMW employs about 9,000 workers at its factory in Spartanburg, S.C. along with supporting an additional 70,000 direct and indirect jobs throughout the U.S.

The Munich educational center is currently training 870 apprentices in 16 different occupations, and BMW is using the German dual public/private vocational model to train workers at the Spartanburg plant.

“In training and education for manufacturing, we have a common denominator that we can leverage to increase the level of cooperation between our economies,” says BMW Chairman Harald Krüger.

In 2016 the DOL added 1,700 new registered apprenticeship programs nationwide, while more than 206,000 students of all ages enrolled in an apprenticeship. The DOL reports that about nine out of 10 apprentices are employed after completing their programs, and over the course of their careers apprentices earn up to $300,000 more in wages and benefits than their peers.

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About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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