Combatting the Tight Labor Market

Previous blog posts, as well as LinkedIn posts, have addressed different aspects of the current labor shortage being experienced in many industries, manufacturing included. We’ve addressed hiring millennials and workforce retention as two working strategies. Another approach is to develop your own work force through apprenticeships and similar programs. 


Apprenticeships have been with us since the latter half of the Middle Ages, when trade guilds used them as a way to have both a cheap source of labor and a means of expanding the trade. Today, there are apprenticeship programs in many parts of the world, with Europe being the most prominent employer of such programs. In some countries, such as Germany, apprenticeships are almost mandatory in order to find employment. There, almost 60 percent of the young people coming into the job market are in apprenticeship programs.

The system in Germany is often held up as an example to be followed by others, including the United States, though some argue that it’s not directly transferable. Modern apprenticeship programs involve a combination of class work and on the job training. In Germany, partial education costs are paid by the government, which is not likely to be replicated here, where estimates of costs to be borne by individual businesses go as high as $170,000 per apprentice. U.S. businesses would also have to expend start-up costs, compared to German firms already deep into the system.


An alternative to apprenticeships is internships. Whereas an apprenticeship involves any level worker training for a specific role or skill, internships typically are usually held by students or recent graduates who are essentially trading their work efforts for the experience to aid in further job searching. Internships may be paid or unpaid. They also are usually for a defined period of time.

We occasionally take on engineering interns to help fill basic skill needs within the department. We make them paid positions, and in some cases the interns have been hired to full-time positions once their schooling is complete.

Co-op Students

Many engineering schools work with businesses to provide students for periodic work periods in place of school time. We recognized several years ago that such a program would be a great recruiting and training tool to bring youth and new ideas into the company. As such, we made our program very structured, requiring each co-op to spend time learning each part of our company business, from sales and marketing, to panel assembly and field service. 

Prospective co-ops have to apply, interview, and be accepted into the program. After each term, the students have to give a presentation to senior managers describing what they learned during their work period and critiquing the overall quality of the program. At the end of their co-op program, those who are deemed an excellent fit for the company are extended job offers. To date, we have had more than 50 percent of our co-ops join us as full-time engineers. 

To date, our success with our co-op program and our internships has been sufficient to help us fill many of our talent needs, thus avoiding the need, and expense, of setting up an apprenticeship program. However, each business has to make its own judgement as to which type of program will best fit their needs and budget.