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Apprenticeship program puts students to work at PMF Industries

As a high school student, Austin Badman had his eye set on learning a trade, perhaps by heading off to a technical school.

Instead, he got involved in an apprenticeship program where he learned the skills he needed to launch a career as a computer numerical control machinist.

“I recommend it for young people like me,” he said.

Badman, 21, of Sunbury, is among a handful of apprenticeship graduates successfully employed at PMF Industries of Williamsport, a sheet metal contractor.

Local manufacturers, school districts and career and technology centers in collaboration with the Central Pennsylvania Apprenticeship Consortium (CPAC) are part of the program working to train

workers while helping companies fill important, often hard-to-fill positions.

Sam Shea, PMF human resource manager, said the program has served as a key recruitment tool for the company.

Four people in the past few years have completed apprenticeships at the company and others are enrolled in it presently, he said.

“They work full time, eight hours a day,” he said.

It also includes one evening a week of classroom training.

Shea and other PMF officials noted that one of the major hurdles facing their company is finding skilled workers to fill jobs.

“We could be in major trouble without this program,” said Jerry Ulsamer, PMF manager. “The high schools have really stepped up.”

Earlier this year, it was announced that Central Pa Workforce Development Corporation in partnership with CPAC received a $250,000 PAsmart grant to develop a computer numerical control machinist pre-apprenticeship pathway for high school students in a number of school districts.

The PAsmart grant funds equipment and supplies for those students enrolled at Williamsport Area High School, Keystone Central School District, Jersey Shore Area School District, Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology, Columbia-Montour Area Vocational Technical School, and other area schools and institutions.

The initial goal is to funnel those pre-apprenticeship students into an apprenticeship program at a company.

“The high schools have really stepped up,” Derek Knipe, PMF manufacturing engineer, said. “They see what we need. They are very open for advice.”

Apprenticeship programs are nothing new, but not many companies are taking advantage of them to recruit and perhaps more importantly, retain workers.

“It’s an old process,” Ulsamer said. “It’s just being rejuvenated.”

Asked why more companies aren’t doing it, he said, “I don’t know. As they get in trouble, they may have to do it.”

Shea emphasized that it’s all about recruitment.

Computer numerical control machinists commit to three years at PMF for successful completion of the apprenticeship program.

“If I can get three years out of them, I’m likely to get five years,” Shea said.

But the long-term goal is to get many more years out of the apprenticeship-trained employees, he added.

“More industries are going to have to do apprenticeship training to survive,” Knipe said.

And, he’s hoping to expand the apprenticeship program to jobs beyond the computer numerical control machinist position.

“There is always a risk when you train people and they leave for whatever reason,” Ulsamer said.

Shea said a challenge for companies is keeping up with the changing technology to properly train people for jobs.

Overall, the apprenticeship program serves as a long-term strategy to keep the company staffed as well as help people launch careers.

Austin MacKenzie completed his apprenticeship in May and couldn’t be happier he’s now working at PMF as a computer numerical control machinist.

“It basically helps to have real time experience and to implement it with what you are doing at work,” he said. “You are getting all you need to succeed.”

Badman noted that had he gone to school as originally planned, he would have been faced with mounting school debts.

“It’s an alternative to college,” he said. “The thing is, you are focusing on a trade you want to do.”

His plan for now, he said, is to remain at PMF using the skills he’s learned.

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