Why Our Industry Needs More Apprenticeships A small number of high school graduates will be starting apprenticeships this summer (2019) in central Washington state. The four students will be introduced to composites fabrication and manufacturing thanks to a program being made available through the SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers facility in Lake Moses. The facility operates as a joint venture between SGL and BMW group.
As for the four new apprentices, they are the latest among a growing group established under a statewide apprenticeship program initiated in 2017. All of the students will complete college-level courses during their apprenticeships while also undergoing on-the-job skills training. All of the training will count toward graduation. Composites Industry in Need While the industry applauds apprenticeships like those being done in central Washington, there are not nearly enough such programs in place. Making matters worse is the fact that the composites industry is in desperate need of skilled workers. The problem is that they are just not out there. According to a 2015 report from IACMI, the demand for new workers in the composites sector doubled in the six years between 2010 and 2015. That demand has not slowed a bit. It's even greater today thanks to the strongest economy we've seen in a while. Without enough skilled workers to allow plants to work at maximum productivity, the industry won't be able to keep up with demand. We also won't be able to continue innovating. The result will be a stagnating industry that cannot rise to meet the needs of the world around it.
The Stigma of Manufacturing All this begs the question of why more young people aren't going into the composites industry. No one knows for sure, but it seems as though a big problem is the stigma associated with manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing is very much considered blue-collar work regardless of whether someone works on the plant floor or up in the design office. This stigma applies to other industries as well. For example, it applies to the construction trades, truck driving, and even residential home services. It is so strong that young people don't even consider such careers because they've been trained to think that only white-collar work is respectable work. We have spent the better part of the last 30 years convincing high school students that the only path to success is college. Along the way, we have also convinced them that blue-collar work is only for those who can't make it in higher education. Not only is such a position ethically tenable, it is also not true. Blue-collar workers are as important to the economy as their white-collar counterparts. Without them our economy simply would not be what it is today. That says nothing of the fact that not everyone can be a doctor, lawyer, software developer, or IT engineer. Focused and Timely Apprenticeships From our perspective, the best way to get young people into the composites industry is through apprenticeships. The focused and timely apprenticeship dispenses with years of liberal arts education in a community college or university setting. It gets students right into the thick of things with hands-on training and real-world exposure to what composites are all about. The construction industry has proved the value of apprenticeships. We could learn a thing or two from what they’ve done. Establishing more apprenticeships will make it easier for young people to get started without having to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to pay for school tuition. We need more apprenticeships because we need more workers. Without both, the future of the composites industry will remain in question.