This industry insight article appeared in WQP June 2021 issue as "Finding the Talent"
Employee recruitment and retention are increasing challenges in the water quality industry for dealers and manufacturers alike. Registered apprenticeship programs may provide a potential solution to workforce development obstacles. Joliet Junior College (JJC) partnered with U.S. Water Culligan Group to create such a program. WQP Managing Editor Lauren Del Ciello spoke with Melissa Lachcik, apprenticeship coordinator for JJC and Amy Murphy, dean, applied arts, workforce education and training for JJC.
Lauren Del Ciello: How can apprenticeship programs help with employee retention?
Melissa Lachcik: According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), 94% is the percentage of retention of employees that go through an apprenticeship program. As an apprentice, you will see that an employer wants to invest in you, they care about your skills, and they are committed to you. That return — then you do not have to keep hiring a new employee and going through that process again.
So the retention rate is definitely something that companies have echoed, that they want to get employees in that can grow within the company. A lot of companies are faced with a retiring workforce, as well; that is another area that you do not want the knowledge and expertise to walk out the door when those employees retire. So retention is a huge piece and a huge benefit to employers, not to mention the tax credits that are also available [...] We look at this as a partnership. We want to help and provide not only opportunities for our students, but we recognize part of the return in our role is to help employers find that workforce.
Del Ciello: On JJC’s new collaboration with U.S. Water Culligan Group, how does the partnership work and what areas is JJC focusing on for its technical training?
Amy Murphy: Here at the college, we take pride in working with our employers. I have been with the college over 28 years and my main focus has always been working with employers. So a big piece of what we do is we actually listen to our employers needs. Where the relationship began with Culligan — and I’m kind of excited about this — is we did an event this past November, and it was part of National Apprenticeship Week and we did a webinar and actually Culligan was on the call.
[...] To give you kind of an idea, when you develop a registered apprenticeship program, for every 2,000 hours a person works, they are required to do a minimum of 144 hours of related technical instruction. So if an apprenticeship program is one year, they would be required to do a minimum of 144 hours. As [Lachcik] mentioned, we can actually customize that to what they are looking for as far as their training. In our particular area here at JJC, we specialize in industrial maintenance and truck driving, so we had both those skill sets. It is not to say that all of our curriculum that goes through the industrial maintenance program Culligan needs, we sit down and kind of develop a program that will watch what they need and those are the required course works that we work with their apprentice to go through.
Del Ciello: How can other communities institute similar programs?
Murphy: One of the pieces there that I would share with you is that we have done this across the board, and we are more than willing to help. [Lachcik] and I have reached out to a lot of different areas that are trying to get this started. It is pretty easy to get started. The nice piece with partnering versus being a registered sponsor yourself with DOL is we do all the paperwork. Companies do not have to do the paperwork and there are a lot of community colleges across the country that actually serve as that registered sponsor with DOL. They do the paperwork. That is a key element. We do the paperwork, which helps free up the time of employers to do other things.
We are available to help and we do not charge for any of our advice, services or sharing of information that we have because that is what community college is — here for the community. And if we are here for the community, they are too and we are willing to share whatever information is needed. I will tell you it was a learning curve for [Lachcik] and I when we started this. The success rate that we have had with this with our employers has been tremendous, and I think it is one of those that are just going to keep growing.
*Responses have been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full conversation from the Checking In series at bit.ly/checkingin38.