Pre-apprenticeship launches SoCal aerospace students into workforce pipeline

580 200 Nadine Ono

(Photo: Denis17.ranque/Wikimedia Commons)

When 30-year-old Andrew Noda received his first Associate of Science degree and entered the workforce, he had trouble finding a job in his field. After returning to college for another degree (he now has four), it wasn't until he discovered the Aero-Flex Pre-Apprenticeship in Engineering program that he was able to land a “dream job.”

“The one thing I wanted on my resume, despite lots of schooling, was job experience in my field,” said Noda. “All the other job experiences I had were as a factory worker. So I was familiar with manufacturing but only at the worker level.” He saw the flyer about the pre-apprenticeship and realized this was a way to gain the job experience he needed to start his career in engineering. 

Aero-Flex, created by the South Bay Workforce Investment Board (SBWIB), places students in local aerospace companies such as Northrup Grumman, Impresa Aerospace and others. The program was created with two major objectives: 1) Develop an employer-driven pre-apprenticeship framework that would meet the workforce development needs common to its industry partners and 2) provide a customized layer to allow each employer to design or flex its own program within the framework.

Noda was placed at Magnetika, a Gardena-based company that supplies custom magnetics components to the aerospace, defense, space and commercial industries.

“He had extensive knowledge in electronics, and to give him this opportunity benefitted the organization as well,” said Magnetika’s Human Resources Manager Catherine Holdbrook-Smith. “When Andrew and two other engineering students from El Camino College joined our pre-apprenticeship program, our idea was to ensure that all three were in fields of interest to them. Andrew’s interests were most suited for mechanical engineering. He was surprised at his ability to apply his technical skills in at Magnetika’s engineering department.”

Magnetika ended up hiring two of the three pre-apprentices as full-time employees. Added Holdbrook-Smith, “We may not be able to hire them all, but we are creating a strong pipeline for organizations in our region to recruit skilled and ready engineers. The Aero-Flex Pre-apprenticeship program provides tremendous opportunities for the students, organizations, and our economy.”

“When employers find these students ready Day One, that’s our marker of success,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, executive vice chancellor at the California Community Colleges.

The pre-apprenticeship program, which was started at West Los Angeles College and expanded to El Camino College, includes both high school and community college students. Once enrolled, the students register with the SBWIB and are offered support services. They take an assessment to determine competency in multiple skill areas and/or identify skill gaps. Training includes a course on soft skills and industry-specific occupational skills as determined by each participating company.

The final component of the pre-apprenticeship is four months of work-based learning or on-the-job training. The pre-apprentices will work inside the companies, which can include shadowing an employee, working on current projects or doing other activities that help them gain experience in the field. The pre-apprentices will either receive wage payments or a stipend at the end of their program as well as a credential, which can be used in their future college or work applications. The program is set to graduate 100 students.

“In the industry right now, if they’re going to hire someone, they want someone who’s been doing it for five or ten years. The problem is how are you going to get that if you’re just starting out?” Noda added, “The greatest thing this place has offered me is a chance to learn, sometimes making mistakes along the way – there’s definitely a learning curve.”

Holdbrook-Smith said it was key that the program was flexible in order to suit the participants and that they had appropriate mentors. “That kind of flexibility came into play when we met them and we knew that we could recruit them and have applicable resources for them,” said Holdbrook-Smith.

Earlier this year, the SBWIB expanded the program to create the nation’s first Aerospace Engineering Apprenticeship in partnership with Tooling U-SME, a non-profit dedicated to advance the manufacturing industry. It is the first degreed, registered apprenticeship in the U.S. in the Aerospace engineering discipline approved by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) Office of Apprenticeship.

“With this pre-apprenticeship interaction, companies can start to build relationships with students and develop a workforce pipeline,” said Chris Cagle, SBWIB’s regional affairs manager. “It can go from being exploratory with a paid stipend leading to being hired as a registered apprentice where there is agreement for earn and learn.”

According to the California Employment Development Department, Professional, Scientific and Technical Services is among the five top job-producing industries in the Los Angeles region. From 2014-2024, there will be more than 42,000 job openings in the field. Creating pathways for the next generation of skilled workers into good-paying jobs like these will be one of the areas highlighted at the 2018 California Economic Summit, which will be held in Santa Rosa on November 14-15.

“If we could have in our pre-apprenticeship training program more students than we could hire, that would be okay, because we can make them ready for other organizations as well,” said Holdbrook-Smith. “Our goal was to be a part of the pre-apprenticeship program and help create a pipeline for ourselves and other organizations.”

As for Noda, after starting at Magnetika as a pre-apprentice, he is now a full-time employee as a junior engineer. “I wasn’t expecting to get selected (into the pre-apprenticeship program). I wasn’t expecting a job, but the lead engineer asked me to join the team.” He added, “It’s a dream job.”


Nadine Ono

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