Printer Creates Opportunity Through Apprenticeship Programs
As the need for fresh talent continues to be paramount for driving the printing industry forward, Quad/Graphics is taking an active approach with its Youth Apprenticeship (YA) Program. The program provides high school juniors and seniors with the opportunity to gain real-life experience and universal skills in advanced manufacturing, by enabling them to shadow subject matter experts in various departments during a one- to two-year period.
"The program is state-accredited through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and supports our long-standing mission of helping people become something more than they ever hoped to be," explains Claire Ho, director of corporate communications. "We anticipate the program will spark interest in careers at Quad/Graphics and become a feeder for our Accelerated Career Training program for years to come." (Accelerated Career Training provides a fast-track for career advancement and includes classroom instruction combined with on-the-job training in a condensed time period.)
Nate Butt, production support department manager at Quad/Graphics’ Sussex, Wis., plant, helped guide the development of the Youth Apprenticeship Program in 2016. Early on, he saw that there was a need for more skilled workers. "Knowing how difficult it was to find individuals who could perform the tasks that took four or five years of apprentice training, I could see back then that we were headed for a [skilled worker] shortage."
In 2016, the company decided to start the Youth Apprenticeship Program. "I met with our production team and we all agreed that we needed to move forward with the program,” Butt said.. “We used the program as an avenue to help redirect those high school students who we felt would be a great fit for the manufacturing or industrial trades."
Butt notes he has talked to about 50 to 100 high school kids during the past few years, trying to better understand what career direction they're given in their schools. He also hosts tours of the plant and says he finds that high school students who are interested in automation and robotics, or those who are in a systems automation program at a technical college, tend to be the most engaged about the printing process.
Butt says that careers in the printing industry are not presented to high school students the way they should be. "These are decent, family-supporting jobs and we need good people," he points out. "When students tour our facility, they see the machinery first-hand and the creation of a magazine from start to finish, which captures their interest."
According to Butt, the Youth Apprenticeship program launched with seven students in Quad/Graphics' Sussex, Wis., facility this year and two in its Lomira, Wis., plant and the company plans to expand the program to other plants. "Youth Apprenticeship is something new to us, and we already learned a lot with the first group of students who came through. Our goal is to continually have a good stream of high school kids coming through the plant to introduce them to all the different opportunities that are available in manufacturing."
In addition to the student apprenticeships, another program that Quad/Graphics offers is Registered Apprenticeships (RA) at Waukesha County Technical College, where Quad/Graphics' students are educated on the industrial electrical trade.
According to Butt, the RA program is now in six states and 12 locations, with five of those located in Wisconsin. "The industrial electrician position is probably the strongest area where [more] staffing is needed. So, most plants start out by launching some kind of industrial electrical program.
"In 2005, we added the maintenance mechanic program and, a couple of years back, we added a machinist, welder fabricator and maintenance technician program," he continues. "We have smaller needs within the company for these positions, but none-the-less it's difficult to find people with those skills."
Butt notes that Quad/Graphics currently has 67 apprentices under contract — all apprentices sign a four-year commitment. By the middle of this year, that number will most likely increase to more than 100 apprentices.
Since 2002, when the RA program started, 75% of the apprentices in Butt's department have graduated, and there has been very little turnover. "Going through an apprenticeship and being taught hands-on by a mentor, naturally develops a desire to give back after they've graduated and to mentor the next group of apprentices coming through. They develop pride in learning a trade and working with their hands."
In addition to the apprenticeship programs, Quad/Graphics provides Accelerated Career Training (ACT) for existing employees. Each of the production areas has an accelerated training path by which the applicants accelerate through the various job titles.
"There's a general idea of how long the training should take, but it's also a matter of how much material the employee wants to get through in a certain amount of time," Ho points out. "Historically, Quad/Graphics has always been very focused on education and training. We're always looking for good people who want to work hard, have fun and live our values. And if they don't have the necessary skills, we can teach them."