LC America, Inc., an Italian company with a facility in Colfax, North Carolina, is a snack pellets manufacturer using innovative technologies to enhance food quality and safety. The company employees 40 people, nine of which are youth apprentices in the Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) program.
GAP connects companies with bright, motivated high school juniors and seniors who work part-time and go to school part-time. After high school, GAP’s youth apprentices go on to Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) where they graduate with an associate degree, zero debt, and the possibility of full-time employment with their company. LC America has been a GAP member for three of the seven years it has been operating in the United States.
Like many manufacturing companies, LC America struggles with its talent pipeline. Because the company blends manufacturing and food safety, finding employees with experience in both areas is nearly impossible. “Almost everyone we have apply, they have experience with one or the other, but they don’t have both,” says Peter Shoun, Knowledge Transfer Process Specialist and Apprentice Coordinator for LC America.
The apprenticeship program is providing LC America with energetic, capable employees ready to learn and participate. Since employing apprentices, Peter estimates the company’s retention rate has increased by approximately 50%. “It’s definitely enabling us to run at capacity,” he says.
Apprentices work in every department at LC America––advanced manufacturing, supply chain and logistics, maintenance, production, mechatronics, and IT. “That’s part of our greater vision with the apprenticeship program; we intend for it to be a very significant source of future employment in the company,” says Peter.
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When applying to the GAP program, youth apprentices participate in an intensive testing process that includes aptitude and personality tests, setting employers up for a streamlined, more reliable hiring process. In addition, youth apprentices start work without any fixed ideas from previous employers.
Peter shares, “One of our deepest needs is having people who truly understand our company’s policies and our equipment, specifically how they all interact together, and that’s something that an apprentice tends to pick up on and mold to a little more easily…We really see them filling the needs of not only company operation in terms of production and operations, but also leadership.”
“They’re good students; they’re good employees; and they have definitely filled in gaps,” says Peter. “They bring ideas and energy that other employees tend not to bring…As the technology continues to improve and the apprentices become so skilled at what they do, they start bringing those skills and knowledge to improving the designs, maintenance, and processes that we already have in place. We definitely see an eagerness to innovate.”
He continues, “Continuous improvement is the only way to do it because there are always new technologies. You can’t do things the way you did the past 10 years. You can’t even do things the way you did the past three years. You have to keep changing and rolling with it, and the apprentices are ready for that.”
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GAP offers high-achieving students access to educational and career opportunities which may have otherwise been out of reach. In addition, it entrenches them in the community, connecting them with mentors and putting them on a solid career path. Peter sees long-term benefits for all involved. “For me personally, it’s working with students who are already integrated with the community and watching them become better versions of themselves, watching them become respected career professionals.”
GAP gives LC America access to a network of organizations and companies that are similarly forward-thinking champions of the local economy and community. “The consortium model really works because of the support system,” Peter says. “I think everyone who has become a part of it has been surprised in the best way with the quality of the students and the enthusiasm that they bring to employment.”
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Training and mentoring youth apprentices has benefits for LC America’s older, more experienced employees, as well. “I know that when you teach something you’re better at it,” shares Peter. “It helps them hone their own skills and look critically at what it is they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it can be improved.”
Through participation in GAP, LC America is making a critical, long-term investment in its workforce. “If you want the company to be strong five years from now, 10 years from now, apprenticeship is one of the best ways to build that solid foundation to keep building year after year,” says Peter.