In West Virginia, as in most of the nation, there simply
are not enough workers pursuing careers in manufacturing, and this talent
shortage will continue to grow as more Baby Boomers retire.
This is an issue for most companies. In fact, the Tooling U-SME
Millennial Survey shows that eight of 10 manufacturers are concerned about
meeting their workforce needs within the next five years.
For companies to compete successfully and grow, they often
require customized training programs and apprenticeships to increase the skills
of their current workforce, raising them to a higher level, and attract new
In recognition of this critical need, the US Department of Labor
(DOL) has awarded the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible
Manufacturing (RCBI) $4.9 million to expand its model apprenticeship program
This innovation-based, technology-driven approach relies on local
manufacturers and partners such as Tooling U-SME, a leader in manufacturing
training and development.
DOL-Funded Apprenticeship Program
As West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said, “Training programs
like the ones this grant will support at RCBI are a critical part of building
the highly trained workforce we are working hard to create in West Virginia.
Advanced manufacturing is growing exponentially across the country, and in West
Virginia, and I’m glad we will be able to provide more employers with people
who have the skills required for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”
With this grant, the National
Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program at RCBI will broaden our existing
innovative apprenticeships and promote advanced manufacturing
pre-apprenticeships for underrepresented groups such as women, transitioning
military personnel and disadvantaged youth. It will provide standardized,
industry-endorsed, online instruction and on-the-job (OTJ) learning for
companies in multiple states. The RCBI program will serve at least 1000
apprentices and 415 pre-apprentices across the United States.
The grant will make apprenticeships more affordable to employers
and more accessible to employees and individuals considering careers in
Through the five-year initiative, RCBI and its partners will
deliver apprenticeship training nationwide in core advanced manufacturing areas
such as manual and computer-controlled machining while they create new
registered apprenticeships in additive manufacturing (better known as 3D
Printing), composites and robotics. RCBI will continue to work with a variety
of industries, including automotive, aerospace, robotics, defense and related
This award recognizes a unique approach to apprenticeship
building in West Virginia—praised by the DOL—that has the potential to be
replicated across the nation and to address the growing skills gap in
Marshall University President Gary White says, “This is a
tremendous opportunity for us to extend RCBI’s important services across the
country, training hundreds of people for the high-tech jobs of the future.”
RCBI’s apprenticeship training model focuses on advanced
manufacturing, enabling workers to earn a wage while improving their job
skills. This collaborative model leverages the unique expertise and resources
of multiple public and private entities from across the nation, including RCBI;
Marshall University Research Corp.; the DOL; the National Institute for
Metalworking Skills; Tooling U-SME; America Makes; Orbital ATK, Mohawk
Industries, Coach & Equipment Manufacturing Corp., and other private industry
partners; workforce development agencies; career centers; and community and
technical college partners.
In the past five years, RCBI has trained more than 3000 workers,
many through apprenticeships.
RCBI and its partners established a model apprenticeship program
at Mohawk Industries in Mingo County, West Virginia, using standards approved
by the US Department of Labor/Office of Apprenticeship. Through this ongoing
effort, Mohawk employees earn while they learn, improving their technical
skills while working toward associate degrees.
Another ongoing effort has
apprentices from several companies meeting two evenings a week during non-work
hours at the RCBI Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centers in Bridgeport, WV,
and Huntington, WV. Classroom and online courses cover areas including safety,
manual milling and CNC programming. Apprentices then apply this knowledge
during their regular work hours as they learn more specialized skills.
This Machinist Apprenticeship Program is “competency-based,” meaning
that apprentices progress through the training by mastering particular skills.
This enables employers to measure progress and reward individual initiative.
In addition to its DOL-lauded apprenticeship model, RCBI works
daily with manufacturers to develop customized programs that meet each
company’s individual needs.
These programs range from a two-day blueprint reading class to a
four-year apprenticeship program conducted onsite in a local manufacturer’s
shop. Integrating an online curriculum from Tooling U-SME is part of a blended
learning approach that also includes OTJ training.
Tooling U-SME’s tracking and built-in assessments help companies
track students’ accomplishments. The instant feedback along with automated
grading and homework assignments save considerable administrative time for
instructors. Tooling U-SME’s online content maps to state, system or program
level, and to national credentials including the NAM Skills Certification
System, covering certifications that include NIMS, AWS, SME and MSSC.
The Tooling U-SME classes are standardized and vetted by subject
matter experts. These courses are used by many Fortune 500 companies, which
allows instant recognition of the certification and bolsters credibility.
Since introducing Tooling
U-SME in 2010, RCBI has provided training to more than 400 students who have
completed more than 3300 online classes. RCBI boasts a job placement rate of
90-plus percent, a great advantage for its diverse students—and a testament to
the value of the skills they develop at RCBI. About 80% are nontraditional
students including veterans, dislocated workers looking for new careers, and
underemployed workers seeking better opportunities.
RCBI also is committed to enhancing opportunities for women so
they can discover the rewarding and lucrative careers available in
manufacturing. To build awareness, RCBI works with diverse groups including
Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and West Virginia Women Work, presents
summer camps and participates in career and job fairs that emphasize today’s “new
RCBI remains focused on stimulating interest in entrepreneurism
and “making things” through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and
Mathematics) activities introduced at an early age. With hands-on learning and
outlets for youthful creativity through LEGO robotics events, Maker Festivals
and 3D Printing Camps, RCBI is attracting future generations to this exciting
For the United States to thrive in a global economy and expand
its manufacturing base, we must continue to pursue and take advantage of
innovative approaches that produce a workforce capable of meeting these
challenges. By leveraging partnerships and leading-edge technology, RCBI
operates a unique advanced manufacturing technology center in the Mountain
State that delivers innovative technologies and workplace skills training to
meet companies’ needs so industry can succeed and grow.
As Director & CEO of RCBI, Charlotte Weber oversees a $20
million Advanced Manufacturing Technology System across West Virginia that
delivers access to leading-edge manufacturing equipment, hands-on skills
training and workforce development initiatives, quality management
certification and implementation, and business development assistance to
manufacturers, innovators and entrepreneurs. Weber also serves as Vice
President for Federal Programs at Marshall University, coordinating its
economic development, technology and research activities.
This article was first published in the November 2015 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.