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Making waves

New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program apprenticeships kick into high gear

Minella working at Komline Sanderson in the NJMEP Apprentice Program. – AARON HOUSTON

Jalil Fenney committed an armed robbery, was convicted of his crime, and went to prison for six years, four months, and 15 days. After being released from prison on May 31, 2018, he started to rebuild his life. He found work at Exothermic Molding, a reaction injection molding company in Kenilworth.

“They gave me an opportunity for a job,” Fenney told NJBIZ. “I knew nothing about manufacturing. I ended up becoming one of the best sanders at the company. I moved up two positions and became a department lead. The owner pushed for me to come join the [New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program] to develop me so that I can move up even higher in the company.”

Now, he is working to become a certified production technician and move into a management position. “I feel like this is the new way. Not everyone is college material. This offers hands-on training. This is bettering the manufacturing industry.”

Fenney is in an apprenticeship program as one of 16 employees from eight manufacturing companies who are taking classes and receiving technical instruction from the nonprofit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. They were recognized during an apprenticeship signing day ceremony at the offices of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

“This is about low-wage workers and investing in someone’s future,” New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said during the June 7 ceremony. “No one is coming to New Jersey for tax breaks. They are coming to New Jersey for our educated workforce. This is our first time opening an apprenticeship office.”

State grants

Gov. Phil Murphy announced grant awards on Feb. 11 totaling $2.8 million to seven New Jersey businesses, colleges and other organizations for training programs that will employ 480 new apprentices within the next 12 months. The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program received $596,000 for its efforts through the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Growing Apprenticeship in Nontraditional Sectors program.

The training is designed to promote economic growth by building experience.

Murphy announced additional grant awards totaling more than $3 million on May 15 to fund programs to employ and train apprentices in jobs that will start them on sustainable career paths in high-demand occupations.

Welder/fitter Kevin Minella, left, working with Carl Hosterman, group leader, at Komline Sanderson in the NJMEP Apprentice Program. – AARON HOUSTON

The funding is designed to expand the skilled workforce in high-demand industry sectors such as health care, information technology, clean energy, and more.
New Jersey apprenticeships are governed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

NJMEP is hosting the first training classes consisting of four sets of courses that meet requirements of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council in safety awareness, quality practices in management, manufacturing processes and production and maintenance awareness.

The Manufacturing Skill Standards Council is a nonprofit, industry-led, training, assessment and certification system focused on the core skills and knowledge needed by the nation’s front-line production and material handling workers, according to its website.

In addition to Exothermic Molding, the participating companies are Norwalt Design, Bruker OST LLC, Knickerbocker Machine Shop Inc., Komline-Sanderson Corp., Pamarco, Saint Gobain PPC, and Universal Tools and Manufacturing Co. The 16 apprentices visit the offices of NJMEP on Fridays for 33 weeks to get the training.

College alternative

Manufacturing leaders explain that good, middle-class jobs can be created through apprenticeship programs that enhance workers’ skill sets. They also provide pathways to success that do not require a person to graduate from college.

Annette Oswald, human resources director at Komline-Sanderson Corp., said the company is sending employees to the apprenticeship program to improve their productivity. Finding skilled labor is extremely difficult today, she said.

“We think that sending a child to college guarantees them I don’t know what,” Oswald said. “Everyone wants their child to go to college- and skilled trades are so valuable.”

“This program helps train people to be trained in these crafts,” Oswald said. “The apprenticeship program is a godsend.”

Bruker OST produces wire for magnetic resonance imaging units in hospitals and another wire that is used in super-colliders. Company employees are machine operators who draw the wire from an 18-inch block of copper into a wire that is as thin as a human hair.

From left, Ed Boehlke training Andrew Moore in the machine shop at Komline Sanderson as part of the NJMEP Apprentice Program. 

“We have identified that we need to improve the skills of our workers,” said Michael Delicio, a human resources business partner at Bruker. “This apprenticeship opportunity was a tremendous opportunity for us because our employees are learning about quality assurance, safe conditions and various capabilities that will enhance their skills.”

Annemarie Appleton, president of Knickerbocker Machine Shop, said two of her employees are learning how to better operate machines along with management skills that will help them move into supervisory roles. Knickerbocker employs about 65 employees including 40 working in the machine shop.

“We had people in an assistant supervisory position to begin with,” Appleton said. “We were doing our own inside training. This program offered a lot more than we were able to do ourselves so it was perfect for what we were trying to do.”

Appleton added: “With the grant, it is wonderful because this is something that we probably could not do without the assistance of NJMEP. Our part is continuing to pay their wages.”

As a result, these employees acquire critical thinking skills to trouble-shoot the machines, she said.

Patricia Moran, director of apprenticeships at NJMEP, noted that the registered apprenticeship program is “extremely important to closing the skills gaps.”

NJMEP Chief Executive John Kennedy agreed. “Going to college at age 18 is great for some kids,” Kennedy said. “It is not great for everyone. A lot of kids do not get into their first college: they are devastated.”

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.