Apprenticeship program helps Nestlé prepare for worker shortage

Anderson (United States) : Wearing a bright yellow hard hat personalized with a skull and crossbones sticker on the front and one that reads “Danger Apprentice” on the side, Jordan Lane shows Sen. Joe Donnelly and Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann the ins and outs of a sterilizer trolley.

Rebuilding trolleys at Nestlé, where he and Lane are mechanics apprentices in a partnership with Ivy Tech, costs about $8,000, Vincent Repscher explained in the Anderson plant’s Breakdown Analysis Room. That’s where parts are taken and examined after a line making one of the company’s many liquid products breaks down.

“What happens is if these parts are worn, it can lead to contamination,” Repscher said. “It’s very important to keep up the maintenance on the trolleys or there’s going to be a disaster.”

Participating in a program developed as a partnership between Nestlé and Ivy Tech, Lane and Repscher were on hand as Nestlé officials shared with the senator and college president plans to expand the apprenticeship program to the company’s plants nationwide.

A centuries-old practice started in Europe, apprenticeships allow participants to gain valuable on-the-job experience while attending classes. Most modern apprenticeships are in construction and technical trades.

“It’s so important for this community as we are rebuilding and getting stronger — and you can see it getting stronger — that it’s a part of Anderson’s comeback,” Donnelly said.

Anderson factory manager Bryan Kaniuk said over the next several years, the company expects “a huge exodus of talent.” Many positions, he said, take 90 days to six months to fill because of a shortage of appropriate candidates.

Kaniuk said the company wanted to get ahead of the problem by offering the three-year program and hiring eight apprentices. “We need the technical talent to keep up with these machines,” he said. “You’re behind the wheel of a $15 million car … If these instruments fail, you can lose a lot of money very quickly.”

Claire Berger, director of apprenticeships and internship for Ivy Tech, said she worked with Nestlé officials to determine the plant’s skill needs and develop a program based on courses already offered at the college. “(The apprentices) bring practical experience to the classroom that helps less experienced students,” she said.

Jeff Buck, factory engineering manager for the Nestlé plant, supervises the apprentices, who fill actual open positions in the plant. He said the apprentices added value to the company right away.

Denise Fesik, education and training pillar project manager for Nestlé USA, said the company hopes as much as 10 percent of its workforce nationwide will be apprentices.

“These apprentice training programs give our apprentices opportunities to gain new skill sets and develop new competencies,” she said.

Ellspermann said she was pleased to see that Nestlé was investing in its own employees and that apprentices were coming off the production line. “We see the return of apprenticeships and the expansion of apprenticeships across all of technology,” Ellspermann said. “I think apprentices are going to be important to developing not only the work ready but the working professional.”

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