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Apprenticeship Program Expanding Nationwide

Charlotte Weber

By Charlotte Weber
 Director & CEO
 Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing

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 workers.

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 nationwide.

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 manufacturing. CNC and programming skills at RCBI

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 industries.

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 manufacturing.

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.


Customized Training

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 manufacturing.”

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 industry.

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.



Charlotte Weber, Director & CEO, Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing.

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.


Published Date : 11/1/2015

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