CNC shops, apprenticeships


Is it Time to Revisit Apprenticeships?

Once upon a time, there were apprenticeship programs throughout American manufacturing companies. As CNC machines came into vogue, however, the idea of teaching new employees the finer points of machining seemed old fashioned.

Today, however, the labor pool of qualified CNC machine programmers and operators seems to get shallower each year. This is especially true for smaller CNC shops that must compete with large manufacturing corporations for available talent. That’s why some shops are revisiting the apprenticeship concept.

Of course, there are genuine concerns about the cost of such a program. That’s why it’s important to plan carefully before jumping in. CNC shops that have successful apprenticeship programs typically follow these guidelines:


  • Identify the right candidates. It’s critical that you establish sound criteria for selecting potential apprentices. You’re looking for people interested in a career, not just a job. Along with having the aptitude to learn the trade, the people you choose should also have character and personality traits that match your company’s culture, and the drive to do well for both themselves and your organization.


  • Designate mentors. An apprenticeship program requires having experienced employees and supervisors providing hands-on instruction and encouragement. This means you’ll need to get your existing staff on board with helping to develop new talent as part of their jobs.


  • Off-site education. In addition to on-the-job training, you may want to provide additional education through local technical schools or community colleges that offer machining courses. To encourage the apprentices to take responsibility for their futures, establish a tuition reimbursement program that requires (1) maintaining a specified grade average and (2) committing to working for your company for a specific period of time after completing their education.


  • Retention plan. Once you’ve invested in developing an apprentice, you’ll want to keep them for the long term. This means providing competitive pay and benefits, plus providing for career advancement.


Does an apprenticeship program make sense for your company? Considering the lack of a large talent pool, plus the high cost of hiring, training and replacing underperforming employees, investing for the future through an apprenticeship program may make good fiscal sense.