Regional Apprenticeship Program Success Stories: Michael Poole with Lippert

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Industrial technology is moving at the speed of light. Keeping skills up to date is a struggle for both employees and employers. But for Michael Poole, a Research & Development Technician, and his employer, Lippert, the Regional Apprenticeship Program offered a convenient win/win way to upgrade skills.

“It was basically presented as an opportunity to learn and grow, to get more confidence in my current role as an R&D technician,” said Poole. “I did Quality for eight years prior here at Lippert, so I had a technical background as far as metallurgy and how to use CNC equipment and stuff like that. This gave me more of an industrial base as far as electrical, hydraulics and pneumatics. It made me a little more confident in what I do on a day-to-day basis.”

Headquartered in Elkhart, Indiana, Lippert is primarily a manufacturer and supplier of components for the RV, marine, automotive, and building products industries, as well as the aftermarkets of those industries. With an extensive profile of manufacturing capabilities, Lippert also serves other markets, including Hospitality, Transportation, Construction, Agriculture, Military and more. The company has more than 140 manufacturing and distribution facilities around the world.

According to Mathew Jerlecki, Director of Learning at Lippert, the company learned of the Regional Apprenticeship Program through their partners at WorkOne.

“These apprenticeships combine several aspects of the training we need to deliver,” Jerlecki said. “We are looking to provide opportunities for our Team Members to learn and develop new skill sets for their own individual advancement and for those skills that will allow us to continue to automate and improve efficiencies throughout our operations. We know as we acquire more automated equipment those skill sets will change, and we need to meet those demands.”

The Regional Apprenticeship Program connects firms in Elkhart, Marshall and St. Joseph counties with program development resources to implement a best-in-class registered apprenticeship program focused on Industry 4.0 and Digital Transformation. Designed for middle-skill and technician-level roles, eligible occupations include industrial maintenance, machining, robotic welding, CNC/PLC programming and more. Participating businesses receive a subsidy between $2,500 and $5.000 for up to three employees each to offset the costs of training. The South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership manages the $1.1 million apprenticeship training fund, and employers also benefit from the support of the Northern Indiana Workforce Board, serving as the intermediary sponsor to the U.S. Department of Labor, which ensures adequate program supports are provided from design through full implementation during program lifecycles.

Poole took his apprenticeship courses through Ivy Tech Community College at the Larry & Judy Garatoni Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Automation, the newest addition the college’s Elkhart County campus. The facility offers training in Mechatronics, Automation/Robotics, Industrial Maintenance, CAD Design, Information Technology, Quality/Lean/Continuous Improvement, and Logistics/Supply Chain, as well as room to evolve as technology changes. Through his industrial learning course, Poole studied programmable computer logic, or PLCs, as well as electrical training, motor control, hydraulics, and pneumatics – an all-around education on the industrial world.

“This was an opportunity for me to get more involved with programmable logic in R&D,” Poole said. “At Lippert, we do a lot of testing. We test the products that we make and so using the programmable logic, I can make some of those testing machines to test for the warranty and quality parameters. So, it helps the company. Rather than farming out that work, we can do some of this work internally.”

According to Jerlecki, the team at Lippert saw where the company needed to expand skills, and knew it had the team members to invest in. As the company looked for training options, they were pleased there was a program to build on and work with community partners to refine.

“Typically, it is difficult for businesses to work with colleges because colleges have schedules that are built around the traditional student, and we have production schedules that are designed to meet our customers’ demands. Those two do not always line up efficiently,” Jerlecki said. “Ivy Tech has been fantastic with us modifying the schedule so that we could create a new schedule that allowed Michael and his fellow Lippert team members to join. Instead of a typical 16-week college schedule that meets twice per week, or night classes that no one wants to take after working all day that also create childcare issues, Ivy Tech was willing to create a completely new schedule for us. We took that 16-week college class and made it into an 8-week course.”

The Lippert training met once a week, every Wednesday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., allowing the apprentices to work in the morning, get lunch and head to campus. This schedule gave employees the flexibility to not have to work late and enabled hourly employees to not lose hours by working a little extra throughout the week. This also allowed the community college, which tends to focus on night and early morning classes for students in the working world, to have classes during the day when they had more instructor and lab availability.

“It accelerated the learning,” Jerlecki said. “It is a little harder for the student, they cannot miss a class and you must stay up on your course work, both in and outside of class. But it allows someone like Michael to achieve the required 144 hours of outside training within 24 weeks – about 5 and a half months – instead of being in class consecutively for 52 weeks to meet all the requirements. It is a win, win, win, across the board; for Lippert, the Team Member, and Ivy Tech.”

Due to the program’s popularity, Lippert expanded its apprenticeship model with Ivy Tech to include classes on Tuesdays, too.

Poole is currently working on light system programming, using what he learned at Ivy Tech. He collaborated with his supervisor at Lippert to determine a set of new skill goals for him to develop and how they would be used within the company.

“I hope to be building our own cycle testing machines with the PLC technology and distributing those throughout the company for different research and development applications,” said Poole. “It would be a huge thing for us. We would save a lot of money, but not only the financial aspect, we would be able to custom program these to do what we want them to do and how we want them to do it. We would not be limited as if we were to tell somebody else what we need.”

Click here for more information on the Regional Apprenticeship Program.