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Program designed to develop work force

April 12, 2009|by JENNIFER FITCH

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WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Nestled in the corner of Scott Stine's office is a wooden toolbox with thin drawers and intricate hardware -- a reminder of when he "took a trade" three decades ago.

Stine is now the plant manager for Tyco Electronics in Waynesboro. And he's gone back to the old concepts of apprenticeships to form an on-the-job training program that takes participants four years to complete.

The program has been designed to develop a skilled work force in southcentral Pennsylvania. In fact, Stine claims he wouldn't be offended if program graduates took their learned skills elsewhere because, he says, the companies in this region rely so much on each other.

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"You can take that apprenticeship and go anywhere," Stine said.

"Most of the manufacturing is going overseas. This is an opportunity to learn something and keep it in the United States," said Dustin Cleveland, a 26-year-old apprentice from Waynesboro.

In Waynesboro, Tyco employs many Baby Boomers who are about to retire and take 25 to 40 years of knowledge with them. The workers can move effortlessly among lathing, milling, drilling and grinding tasks.

"When they leave, that's a lot of skill lost. ... Usually when we hire someone, we retire them," Stine said.

The four apprentices enrolled in the first class have finished their third year. The program involves 8,000 hours of paid training in all departments and 400 hours of outside training.

"When they're done, they can pick up a blueprint and do it from scratch," Stine said.

Cleveland is looking forward to an exercise in his fourth year of the apprenticeship program. He'll be responsible for an applicator during its entire trip through the machine shop.

The apprenticeship developed through partnerships with Franklin County Career and Technology Center, Penn State Mont Alto and Harrisburg Area Community College. Stine said now is an ideal time to train employees because the plant could become too busy when the economy is better.

The Waynesboro plant of Tyco Electronics differs from other Tyco plants in that it produces small quantities of high-tech products through application tooling. Most Tyco plants make terminals and connectors, and the Waynesboro one makes tools to connect those to wires of all gauges.

Stine said the plant's 220 employees do 500 to 700 crimps a month using different anvils and crimpers. The process essentially pinches wires prior to their connection.

The plant also manufactures applicators to specifications, with precision measurements much thinner than a strand of hair.

"Everything we do is customized," Stine said, saying some products are the size of a pencil point when they ship and others leave the plant on giant skids.

Jeff Smith, 20, didn't have machine shop experience before joining the apprenticeship program in the fall of 2006. He was surprised by the sheer size of some of the machines and the intricate ways they run.

Smith, of Waynesboro, praised the machine operators.

"They're very knowledgeable. ... They really help us out," he said.

The 77,000-square-foot plant is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It produces 250 to 400 line items a day.

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