A mutually beneficial partnership: GROB celebrates 10-year apprenticeship program with Rhodes

BLUFFTON — It’s been a match made in manufacturing heaven.

As GROB Systems Inc., a producer of myriad high-tech products, transitions some of its production from traditional automotive components to the rapidly-developing world of electric vehicle technology, a key component in that puzzle is already in place.

A well-educated and highly skilled workforce is of the utmost importance as the manufacturing workplace undergoes changes, GROB Chief Executive Officer Michael Hutecker said Friday during a celebration marking the 10-year anniversary of an apprenticeship program the company has shared with Rhodes State College.

Many of those key workers are already in place, Hutecker said, thanks to the solid relationship between the company — whose worldwide headquarters are in Bluffton — and Rhodes State. In the 10-year history of the company’s apprenticeship program, students selected to take part in the competitive program have earned 175 associate degrees in manufacturing engineering technology, electronic engineering technology and mechanical engineering technology. Seventy-five more GROB employees are currently pursuing degrees through Rhodes State.

Each year Rhodes State students are heavily screened and 40 are selected to take part in the highly-competitive apprenticeship program. They work at GROB two or three days each week and spend the remainder of their 40-hour work week in class. At the end of the program, successful students will have earned an associate’s degree, funded entirely by GROB.

“Since we first started here we’ve hired over 450 students who went on to complete the apprenticeship program,” Hutecker said. “We have 40 apprentices each year now, and I’d really like to make that 50 or 60. Space is limited right now, but maybe we’ll find a solution.”

He said that as GROB turns to the production of “very high-tech and complex equipment” for the electric vehicle industry, highly-trained workers are a necessity.

“The transition to electric cars is turning the industry upside-down, and we need experts to be able to build and run this type of equipment,” the executive said. “In order for us to be successful in the future, we need to have and train really good employees. This partnership with Rhodes State needs to continue for us to be successful,” said Hutecker.

Dr. Cynthia Spiers, president of Rhodes State College, said the institution will continue to push the boundaries of higher learning.

“We understand that technology is changing and we are changing too. We will be purchasing a lot of new equipment in the near future and also will open an advanced manufacturing center so we will be able to with you,” Spiers told Hutecker. “This partnership needs great people to work with and we think GROB is one of the best.”

Ashton Neff, a 2022 graduate of Allen East High School, is a member of the current apprentice team at GROB. He is pursuing a degree in electrical mechanical engineering tech, working three days a week at GROB and attending classes at Rhodes State twice weekly.

“And they (GROB) pay us for a full week,” Neff said, “and they’re paying for my degree.”

Jacob Croy, a 2022 graduate of Ottawa-Glandorf High School, said he learned of the apprenticeship program through a high school counselor and from a family friend.

“I saw the opportunities the program afforded me and it seemed like it would be a great fit,” Croy said. “So far I love it here.”