KOKOMO, Ind. — What if you could get paid while going to school? For apprentices at Ivy Tech Kokomo, that’s a reality.
At the community college, apprenticeships serve as a combination of on-the-job training and college courses, with the goal of helping students qualify for better, higher-paying jobs.
For Chris Wright, the opportunity to get paid, learn new skills and land a steady job was too good to pass up.
Wright studied at the Universal Technical Institute in Texas and served in the Army. After the military, he worked as a truck driver for a while, but he knew he wanted to do something hands-on, and that’s when he learned about an apprenticeship through Tyson.
Wright is one of more than 100 participants in Ivy Tech Kokomo’s apprenticeships. The community college provides these opportunities in two ways.
First, the college partners with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, or IBEW. The union sends apprentices to Ivy Tech to gain skills they’ll need in manufacturing jobs. These apprentices can be placed in a variety of different jobs during the apprenticeship, and when they’re finished with the program, they earn a journeyman’s card, showing they completed an apprenticeship.
The other way the college offers apprenticeships is by partnering with area employers, such as Tyson. Stephen Waddel, apprenticeship coordinator for Ivy Tech Kokomo, said these employers are looking to train current or new employees for specific jobs.
These programs are a benefit to employers for a few reasons. For one, they allow employers to train a new generation of employees for jobs that require specific training, Waddel said.
“Looking at our current demographics of the workforce, it’s an aging workforce, which means that many of these skilled-trades people are approaching retirement age, and you can’t just hire someone off the streets to fill these positions.”
They also allow these trainees to learn in a safe environment where mistakes don’t mean a loss in productivity.
“Instead of sending errors down the entire production line, they’re able to learn in a controlled environment,” said Rod Lytle, who previously served as the dean of technology for Ivy Tech Kokomo.
These employers usually enroll their existing employees in the program, aiming to provide them with additional training for higher-paying, more skilled jobs. But the Tyson apprenticeship is a little different. Anyone was able to apply, which is how Wright was able to get involved.
Greg Runkle, who is also involved in the apprenticeship, said he learned about the opportunity on Facebook, and at first he thought it was spam. After looking into it, he learned it was legitimate and he applied.
Runkle has worked at the Miami Correctional Facility for 17 years, and he said the stress of the job was becoming too much. With 10 children, he knew he needed a good job opportunity, and he knew he wanted to do something in maintenance. Tyson seemed like a good fit, he said.
“It was a big decision,” he said. “I’m a lot happier doing this.”
Steve Wolfe was attending classes at Ivy Tech Kokomo, working toward an Advanced Automation and Robotics certification, when he heard about the program.
At the time, Wolfe was working at the Old Style Inn in Logansport, and while he liked it, he wanted a better job.
“I needed to grow,” he said. “I needed experience.”
The apprentices spend half their day learning in a classroom or a lab at Ivy Tech, and the other half of the day is spent working at Tyson. The program lasts three years, with apprentices taking classes through the first year and continuing to gain on-the-job experience in the second and third years.
Runkle said he was especially impressed with the Tyson program because it will allow him the opportunity to move to another Tyson plant. Once he’s finished with the program, he hopes to move his family to a plant in Nebraska so they can be closer to other family members.
While these programs are a benefit to employers and to the apprentices, they’re also a benefit to Ivy Tech, Waddel said. The college is driven to support local industries and meet the demands of the workforce, and offering these apprenticeships is one way it can do that.
The college is constantly working with employers to develop these programs. The Tyson apprenticeship is new this year, but Runkle said he hopes the company continues to do it in the future.
“It’s a good program, so hopefully they do it again,” he said. “It’s a good experience.”