Michael Barth

We are building our own workforce

Michael Barth, Youth Apprenticeship Advisor at thyssenkrupp in Danville, Illinois, about his work: "I enjoy working with our Youth Apprentices. It gives me a chance to help them develop in the workplace and in life outside." 

For more than seven years, Michael Barth has been with thyssenkrupp Presta in Danville, Illinois. With his extensive experience in manufacturing, he first performed various technical jobs within the company. After a restructuring process almost three years ago, he took over the role of Youth Apprenticeship Advisor. A good turn for him: ”I enjoy working with our Youth Apprentices. It gives me a chance to help them develop in the workplace and in life outside“, he says.

Michael and his colleagues visit the sophomore classes at the schools around Vermilion County, and explain the program to the students. Michael sets forth: “When we pick the students for an interview, we also interview their parents and ask them for their input. This way the parents can see what they can expect from the program and they will likely support and encourage their kids.“ Michael mentions one of his apprentices named Jackson, “Our star apprentice”, he laughs. “His parents told us how hard it was to get him out of bed before. Since he has joined the program, he literally bounces out of bed.”

The apprenticeship program takes two years

The apprenticeship program is composed of high school students (who are at least 16 years old) willing to commit to two years in the program – their junior year and senior year. Michael adds: “The students go through each department and get to know the concrete processes in the different departments. Thereby, they can get an idea of the business.” They also rotate through the supporting departments such as safety, maintenance, logistics, engineering and quality. In each line they stay for ten weeks and also work on real projects. “They work just like any other regular employee”, he emphasizes. On the days they are not at thyssenkrupp, they attend DACC (Danville Area Community College) and train for the NIMS certificate (National Institute for Metal Working Skills). At the end of their rotation through the plant, they work on a final project for 14 weeks. “This is when they really learn about the ins and outs, the setbacks, as well as successes and unforeseen developments that our business can bring”, he points out. Besides they acquire valuable presentation skills: This final project is also presented to the leadership team at thyssenkrupp.

At the end of their apprenticeship, students receive a level 1 certificate from DACC and two years of experience in advanced manufacturing. And after they have successfully run through the entire apprenticeship? Michael answers: “They are offered full-time positions when they have performed well during these two years.” Generally, the students are good, he says: “If their grades fall below a certain level, we tutor these students.”

thyssenkrupp also earned a certificate of accreditation by the U.S. Department of Labor for its Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program. Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary technical field which consists of repairing, installing and testing electronic as well as mechanical equipment. The Department of Labor accreditation is a strong incentive for Danville area students because their work will be recognized nationwide, Michael is convinced.

The apprenticeship program has also caught the attention of the State of Illinois, he reports: “I was invited to serve as the chair of the Illinois Workforce Innovation Board (IWIB) apprenticeship committee.” He was even sent to Washington, DC to report on this program. And of course, other companies are interested in that program, too, he says: ”We have had some representatives from other firms, which have already started their youth apprenticeships in their companies following our program.”

Michael is enthusiastic about the Youth Apprenticeship Program: “I have been doing this for almost three years now. It is so nice to see and guide those kids”, and he adds passionately: “You easily recognize the progress between a one-year apprentice and a two-year apprentice and how much they have grown.” But even equally important: “The influence this has on the community”, he points out. “We are building our own workforce; we provide jobs for the youth of Danville. That is a good image and people are impressed that thyssenkrupp is doing this“.

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