AME Apprenticeship Program Helps Decrease Manufacturing Skills Gap

Advanced Machine & Engineering Apprenticeship Program

By: Meaghan Ziemba, Content Marketing Manager, AME

On Tue, Dec. 19, 2017, Advanced Machine & Engineering (AME) broke ground for a new $3.5 million facility expansion. The 30,000 square-foot addition is expected to bring up to 100 jobs to the Rockford and surrounding communities -- a testament to how Manufacturing is making a comeback in the U.S.

According to Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Manufacturing Institute, over 3 million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled over the next decade; however, due to the skills gap, 2 million of those jobs will be left unfilled. There are several factors contributing to the gap, including older generations of machinists coming up on retirement, and the lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills among workers.

To help close the gap, AME, along with other local manufacturing companies, offer an apprenticeship program to local high school students. “We knew we were going to have a skills gap problem as these older guys started to retire,” said Dietmar Goellner, President and CEO of AME. “We had to replace that with new thinking, so we embarked on a comprehensive apprenticeship program.”

The apprenticeship is a federally approved, four-year program administered through the Rock River Valley Tooling & Machining Association (RRVTMA). Participating students are required to complete 8,000 hours of manufacturing training in parallel of schooling at Rock Valley College.


Training Your Own

“It’s so hard to find skilled labor, so that’s why we believe in ‘training your own’” said Goellner.

During the apprenticeship, students learn various skills associated with the trade, including GD&T, CNC programming, materials sciences, feeds and speeds, and milling, drilling, and turning processes. They also attend a variety of classes at Rock Valley College including:

  • Mathematics for Machine Technology I
  • Blueprint Interpretation
  • Metal Cutting Applications
  • Metrology
  • CNC/CAM Operations
  • Introduction to Welding
  • Graphics/SolidWorks CAD I

The RRVTMA helps students select which classes to take, and provides their grades to the companies so they can continue to monitor their progress. “When our people graduate, they are really, really good because of our tremendous screening process,” said Goellner. “We know we’re getting the cream of the crop.”

The apprenticeship started over 15 years ago with AME Chairman and Founder, Willy Goellner. “When I came over here [from Germany], I found out that the training was very weak when it comes to apprentice training,” said Willy. Initially, the apprenticeship involved a general program that gave students basic machining practice.

“In the last 8 years, the program has really taken off. We now offer five different tracks that include CNC lathe operators, CNC mill operators, CNC grinders, and, at Willy’s behest, assemblers and machine builders,” said Brad Patterson, VP Operations and Continuous Improvement at AME. 
Last year, Patterson accepted 30 applications for the apprenticeship. He’s expecting 40 for next year. “We went from hiring one to two apprentices every year, to hiring two to four.”

Nick Roeling, Product Manager for the Fluid Power Division at AME, is a prime example of how successful the program is. He participated in the apprenticeship back in 2010 after getting laid off from another manufacturing company in the area. “I started in the sawing area where I learned measurements and how to cut certain materials. After a year I finally got to start machining on a CNC machine, the multiplex,” said Roeling. “It was the perfect machine to start on because it’s already programmed for you, and it was nice to get on something that was already running.”

After running the multiplex for two to three months, Roeling had a better understanding of how to load a tool, set a tool, and catch off a tool. He then moved on to a smaller machine to learn programming. “Once I graduated from the program, I was able to continue working at AME, making my way up to Product Manager for the Fluid Power Division.”


Investing in People

Patterson acknowledges that there is a place for general machinists, but AME and other manufacturing companies need the highly skilled machinists to fill their available positions. The expertise that they are looking for takes years of training to develop. After two decades of losing manufacturing jobs in the area, Goellner is excited to have the opportunity to hire more people. He understands that to be successful in manufacturing you must invest in the people.

That is why AME has invested in a program that focuses on hands-on training as well as weekly classes that review that latest in manufacturing technology.


This article was originally published in theJanuary 2018 issue of The Voice by the Rockford Chamber of Commerce (page 17).


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