A transformative approach to growing the next generation of American engineers and manufacturers is taking place in three counties in the Tampa Bay area, and it includes opportunities in pharmaceutical packaging and medical device production.
The locally developed American Manufacturing Skills Initiative (AmSkills) model is based on similar models in Germany, a country that boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates. It is providing an apprenticeship program to Florida high school students seeking specific skills and not necessarily the traditional, four-year college path, which continues showing signs that it is not the destined path for everyone. However, students who go onto complete a Bachelor’s Degree can gain some excellent practical experience along the way which will make them all that more attractive to potential employers.
Deemed the first of its kind in the United States, AmSkills works with the Germany Embassy’s Skills Initiative to delivery an American take on the proven German manufacturing training model. Apprenticeship programs in the United States became less popular in recent years, while Germany’s diverse range of offerings coupled with its low unemployment rate shows that its worker training programs are highly regarded, reports The Atlantic.
AmSkills received more than $2 million in county and state funding through 2017.
Enter Tampa Bay-based Pharmaworks, which helped develop and is collaborating with AmSkills on its already successful apprenticeship program. The company specializes in the manufacturing of pharmaceutical packaging machines and focuses on innovative packaging solutions.
Peter Buczynsky, president of Pharmaworks, and Trevor Charlton, operations manager at AmSkills, spoke with PMP News about the alternative educational opportunity that more high school students in their area of Florida are migrating toward. Buczynsky said the dialogue began between Pharmaworks (a U.S. manufacturing company) and Bryan Kamm of Bauer Corporation, a sister German manufacturing company.
“We shared the same passion for training younger people, for getting younger people involved in the industry, and finding solutions for the inability to find talent,” he says. “We bought into the long-term investment.”
Buczynsky says they are not doing anything new, but just implementing the best practices already known.
“When looking at the quality of manufacturing talents, with what comes out of Germany, that’s the de facto standard of quality,” he says. “We began years ago implementing our own program, rotating students through various departments within the company, with the intent all along to evolve it to a close resemblance of the German model.
Most manufacturing companies in Florida have fewer than 50 people, Buczynsky says, so Pharmaworks focused on producing a model that could be easily replicated.
Charlton says the American definition of “apprenticeship” differs from Europe’s.
“In Europe it is a more structured approach to learning, an amalgamation of workshop instruction and practical experience working with a skilled employee,” he says.
The Germans and their process of getting students formally involved in various industries “has worked over decades,” Charlton says.
“There’s a stark difference between our talent and their talent,” Charlton says, describing a “very capable” 21-year-old German apprentice he once had in the company. “This student took the track where he spent 2.5 years working as an apprentice in a German company, then went to University for his ME degree. The broad level of practical skills, relevant knowledge, communication skills, and confidence level allowed him to contribute right away.”
“He was showing engineers things,” Charlton adds about the apprentice. “We could put him on design right away.”
After 2017 the program needs to be self-sufficient, Charlton says.
“We’re also looking at utilizing workshops and instructors for other trainings as well, and two areas being explored are graduates out there with degrees and no practical experience, so we’ve explored the possibility to enable grads to gain three to six months experience to make more marketing an employee from a manufacturing standpoint,” he says.
“Second, there are a lot of veterans out of the military with good mechanical and electrical skills, but companies are a bit wary of how well the skills convert,” Charlton adds.
Buczynsky and Charlton say they know students wont stay in the region once they move on from high school.
“We want to give these kids a chance,” Charlton says. “One of them got a scholarship and is going to Florida Polytechnic, and said he probably wouldn’t have had a chance had he not been involved in this program.”
“It is somewhat of a community service,” says Buczynsky. “We know we may only hire a fraction of these apprentices, and we know it is a long term investment, however eventually there will be a continuous crop of outstanding talent that can pick their own jobs.”
From advocating at the state capitol, to working with the local German-American Chamber, to going to local school systems, school boards, advisory committees, supporting robotics teams and different manufacturers’ associations, Charlton says it also comes down to getting manufacturers to “push” other manufacturers to promote AmSkills.
What Buczynsky calls the “eye opener” was a trip in 2012 to Munich with community leaders. Organized with the assistance of the German American Chamber, visits were arranged to large, medium, and small manufacturing companies and each one’s supportive trade school.
“Community and education leaders from our region observed students working alongside mentors, learning not only the trade but also the work ethic that is not being taught today in the United States,” he says. “Ninety percent of the workforce comes from home-grown talent. You look at the curriculum they had. The students spent 70 percent in the industry, 30 percent at the Fachhochschule, or trade based high school.
When those visiting with Buczynsky from the United States saw it, “it kicked in,” he says. One school superintendent afterward went to Tallahassee and secured the necessary funding from the state, he says.
“There’s a lot of community buy-in from the manufacturing community and they want to see it work,” he says. “They’re realizing they have to be a part of the solution.”
More than 1,500 high school students – primarily sophomores, juniors, and seniors – in those three Florida counties have received outreach from AmSkills, say Buczynsky and Charlton. The two tend to focus on schools with students already in some sort of trade program and talk to the schools about implementing engineering academies.
The first AmSkills summer orientation program finished on Aug. 7 with 39 students completing the program. The apprenticeship proper commences Sept. 28 and students who completed the summer program are currently being considered and selected by area manufacturing companies for three-and-a-half to four years commitment.
Pharmaworks and AmSkills continue outreach to manufacturing companies in the region, including those in pharmaceutical packaging and medical device production, to sponsor the training program. As of late July, Charlton said they have a couple of local medical device manufacturers and one local pharmaceutical packaging company expressing interest in sponsorship.
An area of growth within the manufacturing industry is mechatronics, Buczynsky notes.
“It’s a blend between mechanical and electronic knowledge,” he says. “Look around to any type of packaging environment. It’s a blend. We can’t be training anymore for just one of those disciplines. Our most valuable employees are the ones that have some sort of cross-training when they come on.”
All photos supplied by Pharmaworks.