BLUFFTON — It sounds almost too good to be true, as if there must be some string attached: vocational training, a free associate degree and a wage, all on the path to a career in highly skilled manufacturing and engineering.
It is, however, all true and the only string attached is that it’s reserved for people with a commitment to quality. Math skills and being good with your hands wouldn’t hurt.
In 2012, Grob Machine Tools division revamped its long-standing apprenticeship program to include an associate degree through Rhodes State College. Apprentices are paid to work 40 hours a week, which includes two days a week in the classroom. They learn every nook and cranny of Grob’s functions and products and when completing the multiyear program successfully they transition to a career with the company and also have the first two years of college paid for. The company is growing quickly and is still having trouble filling all the available slots in the program.
Apprentices start at $8.50 an hour, then go first to $9.50 and then $12.50 before entering the career track at Grob.
“You’re not paying for school, you’re being paid to go to school. You’re working 40 hours a week, and you have your health benefits,” Training Supervisor Mike Hawk said.
The Bluffton facility is part of a worldwide company with headquarters in Germany that employs 4,200 people. Grob located in Bluffton in 1990 and has seen six major expansions. The latest was in 2012, increasing manufacturing capacity by a third with 100 additional employees and 90,000 square feet of floor space.
The company is known for its manufacture of auto-industry parts. It also builds machines and lines that make parts (Bluffton employees are building the line that will make the new engine at Lima Ford Engine Plant). It’s also a comprehensive shop: While some facilities make pallets of parts and others do custom work, Grob does both, along with building entire machines and systems, all in the Bluffton facility.
Grob makes flexible machines — the same tooling that manufactures parts for Ford or General Motors could also make a medical part for a knee replacement. The company encourages well-rounded employees. In other facilities, the person who programs a computerized numerical controlled machine is different than the person who runs the machine. At Grob, it often is the same person.
Apprentices start at the very beginning, learning the metric system and how to use hand tools. Then they move through 12 different rotations at eight weeks at a time.
“An apprentice needs to know how to approach a part. He wrote the program,” Hawk said, referring to a young man making a small part. The work starts with a blueprint and program that’s put into the machine that creates a 3-D image. The program tells the computer’s laser how to make the part.
There are quicker, easier ways to make the part, but apprentices learn the hard way first; learning how to do something on his own means an apprentice has a skill set.
The apprenticeship prepares young people for specializations such as machinist, assembler, electrician, pipefitter, controls debuggers and even mechanical and electrical engineering. Students earn an associate degree through Rhodes’ Manufacturing Engineering Technology Program and study things such as robotics, computerized numerical controlled machines, computer-aided drafting and design, automated warehousing systems and flexible manufacturing. The credits transfer to schools such as Ohio Northern University’s engineering college, if an employee wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree.
The addition of the degree has meant Grob now gets access to college-prep track students at high schools. Before, that door seemed to be shut when company officials visited. The work, however, has always required high-level math and science. At the climate-controlled facility, 5 degrees temperature difference can shut down a machine. Parts are measured in microns. What is a micron? Pluck a hair from your head and divide it 84 times. A micron is a metric measurement, but it’s equal to 0.000039 inches.
Grob will start its next selection of apprentices with testing March 17 through March 22. To register for a test time and date, visit http://j.mp/NRdRY2. Eligible candidates must be high school graduates, 18 years old by June 1 and able to pass an aptitude test.