At Shawmut Corporation in Burlington, N.C., employees utilize state-of-the-art machinery to produce advanced fabrics used in automotive headliners, military gear, and industrial and agricultural filters. Keeping that machinery in top shape calls for maintenance technicians who possess a wide range of technical skills. Yet, locating workers with the skills needed for the role can be a challenge. Shawmut is overcoming this workforce gap by employing and training youth apprentices through the Career Accelerator Program (CAP).
Currently, two apprentices are learning the mechatronics skills needed for the maintenance work through a combination of on-the-job training at Shawmut and classes at Alamance Community College. As part of CAP, Shawmut was able to recruit bright, motivated students who were ready to work and learn.
The apprenticeship program has changed the way Eddie Gant, Global Director of Training and Development for Shawmut, tackles the shortage of skilled workers. Five years ago, Eddie found himself recruiting maintenance technicians from as far as 40-miles away. “So many of the people with the skills we needed already had a good job,” explained Eddie. At the time Eddie was with Glen Raven, Inc. His division of Glen Raven merged with Shawmut approximately two years ago.
Eddie and other recruiters for Alamance County companies have been able to build a strong talent pipeline through a partnership with CAP. The program is a collaborative effort that includes area companies, Alamance Community College, the Alamance-Burlington School System, and the Alamance Chamber.
Many companies participating in the apprenticeship program have discovered it does far more than just train skilled workers. Apprenticeship helps current employees develop leadership skills as they mentor students and often impacts the company culture.
“It’s fun to watch the eagerness and the energy the students bring to the job,” says Eddie. “That energy spills over to current employees. Employees tell me the apprentices are keeping them on their toes as they explain the machines and processes to them.”
“One of the most rewarding parts of this program is watching the growth of maturity and confidence in students,” notes Eddie. “Those words apply to what they are doing in our facility and also personal growth outside of the company. The life skills they are able to learn are just as valuable as the work skills.”
CAP helps participating employers develop customized training for positions they need to fill. The program can be tailored to any size company in any industry.
Once the training is developed, companies participate in a comprehensive screening process that recruits high school juniors and seniors for the four-year program.
“The apprenticeship process helps the student employees become truly invested in the company early on,” says Eddie. “As part of recruiting, we are saying to the students, ‘We believe in you.’ The recruiting is truly a unique tool that gives us a competitive advantage.”
Each apprentice works at Shawmut for a pre-apprenticeship period the summer after their junior or senior year of high school. This allows the company and the apprentice to make sure the position is a good fit.
Eddie sees apprenticeship as a win for the companies that participate as well as a win for the community. “We hope apprentices will become not just workers, but leaders,” says Eddie. “It’s a way of planting seeds, and as apprenticeship grows, it will create more leaders. It will really be interesting to see what all of this looks like in ten years from now.”