Four years ago, Luca Romano, Vice President of AKG North American Operations, Inc., was constantly searching for maintenance technicians that had the full range of skills his company needed. He discovered Alamance County’s Career Accelerator Program (CAP), and today, he’s filling the technician roles by training youth apprentices in the exact skills and processes AKG requires.
“Before apprenticeship, it was hard to find employees who had the full spectrum of what we needed,” says Romano. “Apprenticeship training touches all the aspects needed: hydraulics, pneumatics, electrical, and electronics. The students come out very well rounded.”
AKG of America, located in Mebane, N.C., manufactures coolers and heat exchangers that cool the engines found in large construction equipment, mining equipment, power generators, and railway engines. The company crafts cooling mechanisms for all types of engines, including electrical and diesel.
Today, three of the 12 maintenance technicians at the facility in Mebane are youth apprentices. One apprentice is in the third year of the four-year program, and the other two are in the second year of apprenticeship.
Romano appreciates the comprehensive screening process CAP uses to ensure the student apprentices are a good match for the company. Companies meet students during the initial application process and are able to help select students for a summer pre-apprenticeship period.
“The pre-apprenticeship gives us a chance to understand the applicant and the applicant to see us…You get a much deeper understanding of a person than you can ever get from an interview. It’s a much more complete picture of a candidate,” explains Romano.
Students must have a minimum GPA of 2.8 and a record of good school attendance in order to qualify for the apprenticeship program.
Students in the CAP program earn an associate degree in Mechatronics Engineering Technology from Alamance Community College (ACC) at no cost. All tuition, books, and fees are covered through the apprenticeship program. In addition, throughout the four-year program, students are paid for up to 8,000 hours of on-the-job and classroom training.
“This program allows bright students to get ahead. For some, it may be the only opportunity they get to go to college,” says Romano. “Personally, it gives me joy to be able to help give that opportunity to students.”
Read more about how students earn and learn.
Participating in CAP has helped AKG become an organization that values learning, according to Romano. “It’s opened up the mindset of people here. Employees have learned they can go to Alamance Community College for a few months and learn something new about machining,” says Romano.“ ACC has been very flexible and helped customize existing programs to fit our needs. We are now exploring an adult apprenticeship program in welding. “
Read more about why apprenticeship works for employers.
CAP representatives help companies who want to join the program with the paperwork and program planning required by the state. Grants from the state of North Carolina help lower the cost of training for students.
Romano says he has seen the investment in the apprenticeship program pay off quickly. “You need to be prepared for your more seasoned operators to slow down so they can take the time to teach the students, but it’s an investment that quickly comes back.”