At a time when many recent high school graduates are still searching for jobs, Jacob Lindsey has his future all mapped out.
Since September, the 2012 Jenkins High School graduate has gone to school at Savannah Technical College and working at construction equipment manufacturer JCB, where he’s getting paid to learn everything from machining to communication and leadership skills.
“This has already been a great experience,” said Lindsey, who took engineering classes during his four years at Jenkins.
“I’m learning way more than I ever thought I would.”
For working to provide that opportunity, JCB is the Savannah Morning News’ 2012 Education Partner of the Year.
The apprentice program
Lindsey and four other 2012 area high school graduates comprise the first class of JCB apprentices settling into a three-year program designed to provide them with the education and skills they need to succeed while helping to build a workforce for the company.
The apprentices, who each receive a salary and full JCB benefits package, divide their time between the classroom at Savannah Technical College and the manufacturing floor at JCB.
At the end of the three years, each successful apprentice will receive the appropriate certifications, diplomas or licenses and the opportunity for permanent employment.
Those, like Lindsey, who want to go on to higher education, can have that tuition reimbursed when they come back to work.
The new program, which JCB president John Patterson hopes will grow to eventually accept as many as 100 new graduates each year, is a result of what he and other major manufacturers consider one of their most frustrating problems — finding skilled employees who actually want to work.
JCB kicked off the program earlier this year with the encouragement and blessing of the state’s top officials and chose its first five apprentices from a field of more than 70 applicants.
Lindsey and Effingham County High graduate Katie Moore are training to be machinists; Islands High’s Laurence Hayes and Benjamin Tounge, a recent graduate from Kentucky, are learning to weld. Markeis Fulcher of Windsor Forest High is an electrical apprentice.
Each has classes tailored to their specialty area and a mentor who — in addition to knowledge in that field — is also trained in leadership and coaching.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everyone has been really helpful,” Hayes said. “Learning to weld isn’t easy. It’s a process of steps, and it’s really good to have people there who can give me tips and correct me if I’m doing something wrong before it becomes a habit.
“I think I’m learning faster than I would if I were just in school. I’m really glad I put in for this program.”
The apprentices, who put in 40-hour weeks between classes and on-the-job training, earn $21,000 a year with all the benefits of regular employees — including medical and dental insurance, paid time off and holidays. Salaries go up on a sliding scale each year.
The average JCB employee earns $54,000 annually.
While they each have a particular area of concentration, apprentices also are exposed to other processes on the manufacturing floor, with a different area of focus each month during the first year, said Heather Alkire, the JCB human resources specialist who heads up the program.
They’re also learning to work as part of a team, with projects designed as hands-on lessons.
One such project was building a tool box.
‘Ah ha’ moments
“We each had to design, fabricate and build our own toolbox,” Lindsey said. “I wanted mine to be really sturdy and it was, but it was also so heavy I could barely pick it up!
“So I have to figure out how to make it sturdy but not so heavy. Now I understand better what engineers do when they are always trying to improve on a process.”
It’s that kind of “ah ha” moment that JCB’s Liam Brown relishes.
“These kids are growing every week,” said Brown, the company’s vice president of manufacturing operations, who meets with each apprentice on a regular basis.
“And they are teaching us as much as we’re teaching them. I really do see them as the leaders of the future.”
As for Patterson, his hope for the program is that more industries, as well as educational institutions and government, will come together to encourage young people to take up trade skills by offering them similar opportunities.
“We know this approach works,” he said. “But, beyond that, a program like this creates skilled and loyal employees who become part of the business culture and the community.
“And that’s good for everyone.”
BEST OF SAVANNAH BUSINESS 2012
Every day through Dec. 30, the Savannah Morning News will profile companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment in the past year. The Exchange staff chose the honorees — from a list of nominees submitted by local business leaders — utilizing broad criteria, from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.
Tuesday: Savannah Slow Ride (Newcomer of the Year)
Wednesday: World Trade Center Savannah (Advocate of the Year)
Thursday: The Coastal Bank (Comeback Business of the Year)
Today: JCB Apprenticeship Program (Education Partner of the Year)
Saturday: Wet Willie’s (Entrepreneurial Business of the Year)
Sunday: LMI Aerospace (Manufacturer of the Year)
ABOUT THE JCB APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM
Information on the apprentice program is posted online at www.jcbna.com. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED, be drug free and willing to commit to the program for five years, which includes a three-year apprenticeship and a subsequent two-year employment at JCB. Other requirements include a 2.5 GPA and the ability to pass the COMPASS aptitude test with scores adequate to enter Savannah Tech.
The internship includes:
• Year One: introduction, overall business awareness, manufacturing learning foundation.
• Year Two: concentration on chosen skill, continued education, real on-the-job training.
• Year Three: continue with skill experience, education, college examinations and accreditations.
Applicants should post a letter of interest in the program along with a resume detailing work and/or volunteer experience, as well as relevant class work.
COMING JAN. 6
Savannah Morning News business writers Mary Carr Mayle and Adam Van Brimmer provide a look ahead to what expect in each sector of the economy in 2013 in the Savannah metro area.