CHERRY POINT — With an eye on recruiting and retaining aircraft maintenance professionals, Fleet Readiness Center East welcomed its first round of participants in the National Apprenticeship Program Aug. 12.
More than 380 applicants competed for the program’s 40 available slots, which offer participants the opportunity to work as full-time federal employees, receiving pay and benefits, as they pursue a combination of education and on-the-job training. Apprentices will learn and work in FRC East’s production department, training in trades including machinist, pneudraulics, sheet metal, aircraft and mechanical parts repair and airframes.
“Launching our local participation in the National Apprenticeship Program is exciting, because it allows us to strategically plan for the future of the depot’s workforce,” FRC East Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Nieto said. “Through the program, the depot will gain a workforce of highly skilled artisans who have received the most cutting-edge training.”
The four-year National Apprenticeship Program – governed at the national level by commander, fleet readiness centers and administered at the local level by each FRC – seeks to produce a steady pipeline of qualified mechanics. At the end of the four years, apprentices who successfully complete the program will have earned an academic certificate, trade theory certificate and certification recognized by the state of North Carolina and the U.S. Department of Labor. In return, they agree to provide the depot with two years of skilled labor.
In addition to maintaining the workforce, the program helps the depot evolve as the apprentices bring in the newest production methods and processes, said David Rose, director of FRC East’s Production Trades Division.
“The apprenticeship program allows us to grow and develop individuals with the most current practices so they will have the knowledge, skills and abilities to advance the depot-level maintenance of our aircraft platforms into the future,” Mr. Rose said.
Pay starts at $17 per hour, with incremental raises every six months for successful apprentices. Monthly performance ratings provide participants with feedback on job performance.
This class of apprentices will take two semesters of academic courses at Craven Community College, along with workforce development classes, then start their training under skilled artisans. All told, they will gain 7,200 hours of academic, trade and on-the-job training over the course of their apprenticeships.
While apprenticeships are not new to the fleet readiness world, the National Apprentice Program takes a new look at standardizing the program across COMFRC. The class of 2023 is the largest single group the depot has seen since 2012.
COMFRC estimates its component depots experience an annual attrition rate of about 7-10%. Having new apprentices come into the program and work their way to journey-level tradesmen is a strategic, long-range planning effort by command to prevent a future decline in the labor force, according to a release. The apprenticeship program also helps preserve the institutional knowledge seasoned artisans have learned through years of on-the-job experience.
Jeff Nelson, head of FRC East’s corporate operations group, said the apprenticeship program offers room to grow. He started working at the depot as a tool and parts attendant in 1987 and took advantage of several formalized training programs as he progressed through the ranks. Now able to serve as a mentor to others, he stressed that individual effort is fundamental to successful training and advancement.
“Participants in programs like these not only gain mechanical skills that are needed to produce aircraft, engines and components, but also acquire a broad perspective of how our mission supports the fleet,” Mr. Nelson said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the apprentices. You only get out of these program what you put into it. The application of the knowledge, skills and abilities learned through the program, combined with personal commitment to our mission, are the keys to success.”