Pelco Structural in Claremore, Oklahoma manufactures custom steel structures for customers in the U.S and Canada. The company provides essential services to their clients throughout the country, but Jeanine Coleman, director of human resources, saw a gap between a shrinking workforce and the nation’s mounting need for steel manufacturing. Her solution: create a registered apprenticeship program that focuses on teaching required skills while recruiting younger workers to the field. Coleman assembled a team of supervisors and mentors, and then partnered with the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development, Northeast Technology Center, and the Cherokee Nation to create the Pelco Welding Registered Apprenticeship Program. The one-year program brings together people of varying ages and backgrounds to provide on-the-job training supplemented by 160 hours of related education. Coleman envisioned the apprenticeship program as a means to fill a pipeline of needed staff- particularly with younger welders seeking to begin a new career. The Oklahoma Office for Workforce Development (OOWD) aided in launching the program by offering technical assistance, program development, and grant funding. The training program OOWD helped create now serves as an opportunity for young professionals in the industry to earn a living through their training. “Our industry survives and grows on the valuable knowledge and skill that is passed down from each generation of welders,” Coleman said. “With the apprenticeship program we can create bridges the gap between generations and helps continue the valuable and needed tradition of steel manufacturing. We’re proud of our partnerships who also recognize the need.” Since beginning the program, 20 apprentices have graduated to become full-time welders on Pelco Structural’s team. The company recently graduated the newest class of five apprentices, who are now full-time, essential employees. Though Pelco Structural hopes their graduates will continue working with the company, apprentices are encouraged to grow their skills while mentoring younger generations new to the industry, even if that takes them to different locations and companies. “Our apprentices have worked hard in the program and been great Pelco assets,” Coleman said. “It’s been a highlight of my career to help bolster an entire industry while improving the lives of people within that industry.” The Pelco Welding Registered Apprenticeship Program has made a significant impact, both in the lives of their apprentices and in the long-term workforce within the company. Thanks to their array of partnerships across the community, this opportunity is poised to serve as a career launching pad for many across Oklahoma while acting as a stabilizing force within Pelco Structural’s staff recruitment efforts.
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