Long says the addition of the composites program will be an economic driver for southeast Alabama. “When we look at developing new programs for the college, we want them to meet the immediate workforce demand, but we also want to leverage the programs to recruit future businesses,” he says. “That’s where we see this composites program taking us.”

Economic Development Partners Offer Resources

Another one of IACMI’s strategic partners is the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) and its Apprenticeship Works program. RCBI was founded 30 years ago primarily to provide manufacturers in West Virginia with access to equipment and the training to use that equipment. In 2014, the institute led an effort to start an apprenticeship program for a flooring company. “It was so successful, and the U.S. Department of Labor liked it so much, that the DOL encouraged RCBI to apply for the first big round of funding for apprenticeships under its American Apprenticeship Initiative,” says Becky Calwell, program manager of Apprenticeship Works.

Since then, Apprenticeship Works has created DOL-recognized apprenticeship programs for 20 occupations that are being utilized at approximately 30 industry partners in 18 states. “Companies contact us from all over the country, and we help them implement apprenticeship programs at their facilities,” says Calwell. “We provide them the assistance and the tools to get programs up and running.”

The organization’s two most popular programs are for CNC operators and programmers and tool and die makers. But in the past two years, Apprenticeship Works has added newer occupations, such as additive manufacturing/3D printing technician. “One of the goals of the program from the beginning was to build out apprenticeships in occupations that hadn’t been recognized before,” says Calwell.

In 2019, Apprenticeship Works launched a program for composites technicians. It’s a natural fit for West Virginia, which has a dynamic aerospace industry. According to the state’s Economic Development Office, approximately 4,000 people are employed at 22 companies in the aerospace and aviation industry in West Virginia. And as with Apprenticeship Works’ other occupations, the program is available to companies in other states – and other industries aside from aerospace.

The composites technician apprenticeship is a one- to two-year program, depending upon the experience of the employee. The program covers several competencies, including safety compliance, fiber technology, materials, molding methods, shop practices, design, inspection and more.

Apprenticeship Works’ participation in MEEP is an ideal extension of the initiative. “We try to provide a pathway so that if a student trains at a community college or training center, then we partner with a local company and build out that career path for them to go from training to a company and into an apprenticeship,” says Calwell.