AK Steel Corporation, Middletown Works and Machinists’ (IAM) Local Lodge 1943 celebrated on Friday the launch of the company’s first Maintenance Mechanic Apprenticeship Program, one aimed at meeting both employee development and business needs.
Launched on National Manufacturing Day, the program gives union production employees the opportunity to train to become fully accredited journeymen in Maintenance Mechanics as Maintenance Technicians through classroom work as well as on the job training.
The 18-month program is the “lifeblood” of AK Steel, according to Kirk Reich, the company’ president and chief operating officer.
“It’s the future of our company, and I would say as a result of the things we’re doing here today, we put our future in really good hands,” Reich said. “Manufacturing today is a very tough and challenging environment. The competition for quality, talented men and women to work in our facilities is like we’ve not seen before.”
That, he said, is a result of the nation’s low unemployment rate, a tight local job market and the choice by many individuals’ choice to go into other professions.
“There’s a number of factors that really led us to realize that we’ve got to raise more of our technical talent,” Reich said. “That’s what spurred all of this discussion on and has led to where we are today.”
The program is part of a growing trend for industrial unions and their employers to meet the challenges for workforce training, company officials said. That enables AK Steel to meet present and future employee development and business needs.
The program, whose standards were approved in April by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, has enrolled 30 apprentices who are AK Steel employees ranging in experience from nine months to 22 years on the job at the company.
At the end of the program, the apprentices will receive state certification as journeymen and will be eligible to work as maintenance mechanics at AK Steel Middletown Works, Reich said.
Providing the apprentices with training opportunities in the areas of pipefitting, hydraulics, welding and electrical work are four of the company’s “most experienced, seasoned, talented” craftsman, Reich said.
“Much the same as me, they’re all multi-generational AK Steel employees and really folks that we want to emulate in every way, shape or form,” he said.
The program is an opportunity for AK Steel employees to “up the skill set,” according to Neil Douglas, president and directing business representative for the IAM Local Lodge 1943.
“The union’s goal … is to keep these apprentice programs going,” Douglas said. “We want this to continue (for) decades and decades and decades down the road. I think it’s going to give our Local, our membership and the company an advantage over those companies that do not have that.”
Apprentices attend class three days per week and get hands-on training the other two days as portions of the facility are idle and equipment is down, according to fluid power instructor Chad Johnson.
John Campbell, of Carlisle, an AK Steel employee for two-and-a-half years, said the apprenticeship program allows him to see the everything around the mill.
“Working with mobile (maintenance), you get to go to all the different departments and see how everything works, and just learning all the different aspects of maintenance, in general,” Campbell said.
Tony Adams, of Springboro, an AK Steel employee for nine years, said the program allows an employee to learn a skill that they can take with him or her.
“It’s something you can pass along, teach your children,” Adams said. “It’s a positive for me and my family, as well. Gives you stability is the main thing.”
Douglas said it is important that employees let their families and the community know of the opportunity.
“Getting that out into the community might be an incentive to bring more people in and fill our ranks more,” he said. “The more people that we have working here, the more opportunity people have to bid and move around in the plant to different jobs.”
John Giltrow, of Middletown, a third-generation AK Steel employee who has worked for the company for 38 years, said the apprentice program is “huge” for the average employee, especially those who are multi-generational.
“We’ve got an investment in this and the community itself, too,” said Giltrow, a piping apprentice instructor for the program. “We want to see it succeed. We want to be able to keep this thing going, to keep the company running.
“It benefits the community, it benefits us, it benefits the company, which is a win-win-win,” he said.