Apprenticely At Work

Creativity in Apprenticeships

Creativity At Every Turn

Of the new projects on Apprenticely’s plate, fresh thinking is the common denominator


Lonnie Emard


THE WONDERFUL THING about our work at Apprenticely is that we’re just facilitating the efforts of others to do what they might have needed to do anyway. At the end of the day, what we’ve got is individual people doing what they hoped to be doing…and companies doing what they forecasted to be doing…and training providers doing more and more of what they love and need to be continuing to do. And all the while, we’re “widening the bridge” between more and more employers and more and more talent.

This new feature, which we call “Apprenticely at Work,” will be a periodic sampling of various apprenticeship projects we’ve been working on that have come to fruition. Our thought is that somebody out there may see something in these reports that sparks an idea for them, that gives them a sense of how to do something that they’ve been stymied about. Because in any given listing, you may see that we’ve been working with multiple IT companies, or some folks in manufacturing, or even somebody doing trail building! Of course, as Apprenticely’s National Apprenticeship Director, I’m biased—but I believe it to be really impactful to show how broad are the types of apprenticeships and succession-planning positions that we’re working on. “Oh my gosh,” some reader may say, “I didn’t realize that things like that could be an apprenticeship!”

OzarksGo, Internet Service Provider, Fayetteville

I would characterize OzarksGo as the tech arm of Ozarks Electric. We’ve been talking with them for a while now, and they’re truly becoming more agile and nimble. Part of that effort is to no longer require a four-year degree for certain positions in their company. For example, they were very interested in having something other than a summer internship, meaning they were open to the idea of our work-based learning interns coming in at any time of year. And because of that, they started three interns back in mid-spring, and they all worked out so well that the company is actually converting all three of those into apprenticeships.

“Okay,” they say, “we converted three interns to full-time employees as apprentices—now we’re going to try promoting from within.” So now they’re promoting some folks to the next level in their career paths. That indicates that at the highest level they’ve realized, “You know what? Every one of these positions that we try to fill with a new hire, either internally or externally, should be considered as possible apprenticeships.” Now, will they use it every time? No guarantee. But are they seeing it as a viable strategy and not just as some flavor of the month program? The answer is absolutely yes. And that’s possibly going to influence them on the business side of Ozark Electric.

Trail Building, Northwest Arkansas Community College, Bentonville

This really started with Steuart Walton, with his emphasis on putting some funding into Northwest Arkansas’ hiking and biking trails for the benefit of all the area’s citizens. This prompted Northwest Arkansas Community College, known as NWACC, to realize that both their Trail Building Technician path and their Bicycle Technician path weren’t yet at apprenticeship standards. So they began polling people and organizations across the country that shared their interest in these kinds of positions, and they started building a following. “How common would this standard be?” they asked. “Do we have enough buy-in across the country?”

Now they want Apprenticely to submit this as a national standard to the Department of Labor. By our doing that, NWACC and their supporters across the country feel like they’ll be in a head-start position with their curriculum and with the ability to support the training side of these two apprenticeships that haven’t even been created yet. They’re ready to start implementing those apprenticeships within the next six months.

NWA Steel, Springdale

The founder and CEO of this company, Wes Taylor, feels like he actually started his career as an apprentice, even though he wasn’t called that back then. So what he decided as the head of this steel operation in northwest Arkansas was that the smart thing would be to bring in good, solid workers across the entire spectrum of what NWA Steel does, and train them for the specific positions.

“I’ve been doing this for years,” Taylor says. “And now, after learning from Apprenticely what Registered Apprenticeships really look like, and after learning from the Arkansas Office of Skills Development (OSD) that there’s funding to support this, I’m asking myself, ‘Why wasn’t I doing this before?'” Taylor is now looking across the board, if you will, at all of his occupations, whether it’s welders, iron workers, maintenance technicians, logistics, or estimators.

During High School Draft Days in NWA last spring, Taylor brought on 12 new high school hires during the Springdale signing days. Six of them are going to be in the shop as welders, and six will be ironworkers out in the field. They’ll need training, so Taylor is going to put them all in the apprenticeship program. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “I’ve got folks working here that are ready for promotion and potentially perfect candidates for industrial maintenance,” Taylor says. One of them is moving over to be what’s called an estimator. One of NWA Steel’s female leaders stated, “We’ve got opportunities in shipping and logistics that we’d like to offer to folks along with skills training—won’t apprenticeship be the way to do it?” And I say, “Absolutely!’

Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Pine Bluff

We first got to know the folks at Jefferson Regional Medical Center through a Draft Day event in Pine Bluff. They eventually decided not to hire any of the high schoolers, but the head of their healthcare division called me and said, “Hey, I think we’re ready to do something, but here’s our big issue. We really need to figure out how to train-up certified medical assistants.”

The initial visit included OSD, because they’re going to be the funding source for training reimbursement. Collaboratively, though, we also brought along one of the VP’s of Goodwill Industries, Edie Stewart, because Goodwill has an excellent CMMA training program that has produced really good candidates in both Northwest Arkansas and in Little Rock. So why not Pine Bluff?

Goodwill actually uses their own re-entry program and some of their other outreach services for candidates working in the Goodwill stores who want to take the next step up to a new career, such as a certified medical assistant. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re about to launch that program, and what a great testimony to collaboration between us as the sponsor, Jefferson Regional Medical Center as the employer of record, and Goodwill Industries as a training provider—with funding being provided by the State Office of Skills Development. To me, that’s the epitome of what we’re trying to say: Everybody can do this.

Riceland Foods, Stuttgart, and Albemarle Corporation, Magnolia

Riceland’s story, of course, is they’re a large, respected organization in the state, and unlike the other locales we’ve talked about, Stuttgart is in the Delta. Riceland had talked briefly with us about starting apprenticeship programs probably two years ago, having first discussed it with the Office of Skills Development. The fact that it didn’t happen before now is perfectly understandable. They’re a typical example of a company that maybe didn’t have a project manager, didn’t want to be a Department of Labor sponsor, and didn’t really have anybody who was nurturing them along to take the next step. And remember, ACDS, or now Apprenticely, wasn’t in the manufacturing sector two years ago to help take the next step.

So while they were interested, it took until we moved into manufacturing, hired David Mason, and, along with OSD, sat down in front of them and said, “Hey, guess what? Here’s what we can do for you.” And we laid out all those things that so many companies are wary of taking on themselves: We’ll be the sponsor with DOL. We’ll help you get the training lined up. We can help you find candidates. OSD has some funding and we’re going to give you a project manager! And guess what? Now it’s moving.

To me, this is a great example of the difference between what most states and most organizations face when all they have is good information about apprenticeship—but now it needs to become operational and they just can’t pull the trigger because all those obstacles I mentioned above are in the way. And now those obstacles have been eliminated.

I want to finish this month’s wrap-up with Albemarle, which is a really interesting case because of the space they’re in—they’re that big bromine plant down in South Arkansas. Bromine, as you may know, is the basis for many widely used chemical compounds, and it’s an especially key element in making lithium batteries for electric vehicles. Arkansas ranks first in the world in bromine production.

While Albemarle is considered a manufacturing company, they’re hiring 18 chemical operators and they want to use the apprenticeship program for that. They are a really good example of an area of the state that’s going to really flourish over the next three to five years. Albemarle is a key player needing more skilled workers, so we’re all kind of in the beginning stages of this. And for Apprenticely to help get them connected to apprenticeship for this all-important work is just awesome.