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ABB Apprentices Join the Next Generation of Manufacturers

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As manufacturers work to fill the skills gap and hire more employees, some are modernizing a tried-and-true approach: taking on apprentices. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, ABB—an industrial electric motor and robotics manufacturer—is leading the way with its innovative program for local high school students.

How it works: Apprentices work three hours per day, four days per week during the school year and then 40 hours per week during the summer. ABB trains them in a range of roles to provide them with a strong foundation in manufacturing skills and the ability to work their way into an advanced technician role.

A win-win: “These students are getting paid, and paid well for a part-time job,” said ABB Vice President of Operations Johnny McKusker. “They learn a variety of skills that most juniors and seniors in high school aren’t exposed to. And if they decide they like manufacturing and want to stay on, then we’re getting a person who joined us early, has had a lot of training and investment and is able to contribute at a high level early in their career.”

What comes next: Last year, nearly all of ABB’s apprentices took on permanent roles within the company after graduating. They were also able to continue their education through a local university, with ABB providing tuition reimbursement to help them pay for it.

A pitch for manufacturing: “Manufacturing as a career has changed significantly in the last 25 years,” said McKusker. “It’s not hot, dirty and dangerous work. Instead, it offers technical skill development and an opportunity to earn a good living.”

The experience: According to at least one participant in the program, the apprenticeship has been an excellent way to learn important skills and gain experience in a real work environment.

  • “My experience has been great,” said Nadia, a current apprentice working on the digital solutions team. “It’s given me the opportunity to learn about manufacturing, but also about bonding and building relationships with my colleagues. I’m getting the experience of what a real job would be like outside of school.”

The last word: “I want to continue working for this company,” said Nadia. “I took this apprenticeship because ABB was my dream job from the start, because of how great they are in industrial engineering. Seeing the opportunities here and seeing how they take care of bonding and relationship building—it’s something I really like and appreciate.”

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