Apprenticeships for the
next generation of fabricators
Nearly every manufacturer is affected by the skilled labor shortage these days. Many are doing something about it,
and one such company is U.S. Venture, Kimberly, Wis. Since
it was founded in the Green Bay area in 1951 as Schmidt
Brothers Oil, the company has been an ardent supporter of
the local community as both an employer and a philanthropist. These days, it also is a partner in providing apprenticeships for local high school students interested trying their
hands at manufacturing.
Kimberly High School (KHS) provides a substantial number of classes in technical fields, said Steve Masanz, who
serves as the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering
Academy program coordinator and a technology education
instructor for the school.
“We have eight technical staff who teach classes in construction, welding, engineering, metals, audio-visual, and
graphic arts,” he said. “We have three classes in the welding
series. The last one is a dual-credit class, so the student earns
college credit for it. The metals program also includes three
courses. The first includes turning, welding, and machining.
The second and third classes are more advanced machining.”
Of the 1,600 students who attend KHS, more than 1,000
take at least one of these courses, Masanz said, and word
about the program has gotten around.
“We get a lot of support from local industry,” he said.
“They provide tours, monetary assistance, and materials for
the technical education program.” Furthermore, some provide apprenticeships for the 15 students who have chosen
to go that route. Working hand-in-hand with Wisconsin’s
Department of Workforce Development, KHS works to help
students look beyond their high school years, Masanz said.
“We try to help them find a career, not a job,” he said.
The Youth Apprenticeship program is thorough, outlining
the responsibilities of all involved in making the experience
a success—parent, school, instructor, coordinator, employer,
and student. Getting a student into an apprenticeship position starts with some legwork on the part of the program
“We learn about the business to determine if the student
will be a good fit,” Masanz said. From there, the student
submits a resume and goes through an interview, just as he
would for any other job. The employer is required to assign
a mentor, who receives training before the student is hired.
The employer, instructor, parent, and student must participate in regular progress reviews during the student’s employment. Furthermore, the coordinator monitors each student’s
progress and visits each employer regularly to be sure the
employer is providing duties that are relevant to the apprenticeship program.
The employer commits to providing at least 450 hours of
work throughout the school year, which adds up to 15 to 20
hours per week. The student gets more than just a taste of the
workplace; the student commits to the workplace.
U.S. Custom Manufacturing, a division of U.S. Venture,
is in its third year of participating in the program, said Dick
Vosters, the company’s manufacturing manager and sales
representative. U.S. Custom Manufacturing doesn’t use a single progression for every student, but keeps it flexible based
on the student’s background and capability.
“For the first few weeks, the student mainly looks over the
shoulder of each equipment operator,” Vosters said. “Based
on the knowledge the student has, and the classes he has
taken, little by little the student starts to provide some as-
sistance. It takes a few weeks to really understand the ma-
chines, the processes, and the safety aspects of working in a
Somewhere around the four-week mark, the student starts
working somewhat independently, with oversight from one
of the associates. The student isn’t an equipment operator but
an assistant, in a role akin to that of an intern.
“Our role is education, not production,” Vosters said. To
the end, he makes sure the student works with everyone in
the shop, just as the student would as a full-fledged member
of the work force. Although a student probably would never run something as complicated as a tube bender, Vosters
strives for as much exposure as possible.
“It’s important to work with all of the personalities, learn
about all of the equipment, and understand all of the processes,” Vosters said. Vosters thinks that the shop personnel
also benefit from having a student on the shop floor, and not
just because they get some help.
“People always want to help a young worker, especially
one that has already established that he’s interested in a particular career, and I think it sometimes rejuvenates the veterans to share their experience,” he said.