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Apprenticeship program kicks off with five students in Monroe area

30 October 2013

Ken Elkins, Charlotte Business Journal

Convincing high school students that they have a future in manufacturing in Union County may have been a tough sell until they learned that Ludwig Drums and the pump that sprays the M’s on M&Ms are made in the county.

Monroe Union County Economic Development and others are starting Make It In Union County, an apprenticeship program that aims to ensure that the manufacturers in the county have a supply of well-trained workers.

Greiner Bio-One, Safran Turbomeca and Vanguard Pai Lung have each chipped in $20,000 to kick off the program. This morning, the partners gathered at Greiner in hopes of convincing other Union County manufacturers that they should participate.

Harald Gruellenberger, executive vice president of operations at Greiner, says inviting its two apprentices to join the program is a long-term play for the company.

“It won’t benefit us in six months, but it's going to help the company in the long run,” he says. Greiner, a founding member of the Make It group, began its program on Aug. 15.

Safran Turbomeca, which has three apprentices signed up, was eager to join, says Matt Nelson, the company's CEO. When Siemens Energy expanded its turbine plant in Charlotte, Safran Turbomeca’s turnover shot up to 23 percent.

“It really left a hole,” Nelson says. “We didn’t have the work force for the growth we wanted.”

Now when a Make It apprentice completes the four-year program, he can earn up to $30 an hour installing, maintaining and repairing the machines of the companies’ advanced manufacturing efforts, Nelson says.

Chris Platé, executive director Monroe Union County Economic Development, expects the challenge will still be to convince young people and their parents that manufacturing is safe, clean and high-paying.

“It’s not your grandfather’s manufacturing with smokestacks,” he says.

Greiner’s apprentices will receive 8,000 hours of training over the next four years. About 1,500 hours of that will be spent in the classrooms of Southern Piedmont Community College, another partner in the program.

Apprenticeships are back in vogue in the Charlotte area and around the United States. Apprenticeship 2000, started in 1995 by Blum Inc. in Lincoln County and other manufacturers, has graduated 140 apprentices.

“Apprenticeship programs are cool,” says A.C. Marchionne, president of sales and marketing at Greiner.


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