Last updated: February 17. 2013 8:18AM - 83 Views

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Finding it difficult to locate skilled workers, a local high-tech company has turned to its German heritage and started an apprenticeship pilot program at its local facility in Duryea. ‚?Ę Schott North America Inc. a maker of specialized glass products used in scientific and industrial applications, has hired nine people to participate in a multi-year apprenticeship program at its plant along York Avenue.

The program, which has been used in Schott‚??s home country of Germany for decades, seeks to find candidates with certain skill sets that can be brought in, receive on-the-job, hands-on training and be hired full-time once the apprenticeship is complete.

Anne Marie Martin, a human resources specialist with Schott, came to Duryea from the company‚??s operations in Germany to organize and establish the apprenticeship program in the United States.

She said Pennsylvania CareerLink and the Office of Veterans Affairs helped find candidates. More than 250 people applied, many from as far away as Hawaii and New Mexico. But Martin said the goal was to hire local people and to make sure military veterans were among the apprentices.

‚??We really wanted to invest in the local community,‚?Ě Martin said. The interest in veterans comes from experience that shows oftentimes veterans, through their military training, have a head start on some of the skills that are needed to work as a glass operator generalist, a mason-metalsmith or a maintenance-machinist, the three apprenticeship paths Schott offers.

Schott accomplished both goals. Of the nine apprentices brought on, all are from Luzerne County and three are veterans.

Martin said the company will use what it learns in Duryea to establish programs at its four other Schott facilities in the U.S., including a plant in Lebanon early next year.

Securing the future success of Schott‚??s U.S. businesses played a big role in bringing the program stateside.

Sandra Herman, Schott‚??s assistant manager for human resources at its Duryea site, said a pending tidal wave of likely retirements is what really started the company down this path at this time stateside.

Of the Duryea complex‚??s approximately 260 employees ‚?? who have an average of 30 years of service ‚?? Herman estimated 30 percent will retire in the next five years and 60 percent will be gone in a decade.

‚??Somebody who‚??s worked here 20 years is really a junior employee,‚?Ě Herman joked.

Of the nine apprentices selected, Herman admitted that none would have been hired had they applied to a job posting. But that‚??s not a knock on the nine, it‚??s more an indication of the lack of high-tech job skills being taught in the region.

‚??A lot of the schools, a lot of the programs have been eliminated,‚?Ě Herman said. ‚??There‚??s not many people going into manufacturing training.‚?Ě

Within the past two years 30 employees have been hired, though only a third are from this area.

‚??Most local people don‚??t even apply because they don‚??t have the knowledge or skills we‚??re looking for,‚?Ě Herman said.

Christine Jensen, director of the CareerLink office in Wilkes-Barre, had high praise for the program and said she hoped other local companies would follow Schott‚??s lead.

‚??It‚??s really forward thinking and proactive and companies should be doing more of this, although we should also be educating our students at a very young age about the need to learn some of these skills,‚?Ě Jensen said.

The Schott site in Duryea is a union shop and Herman said the UFCW Local 1776 agreed to the apprenticeship program, though the apprentices will not be unionized. Herman said the union realizes their ranks will be depleted soon and they need to start thinking about their future, too.

‚??Many high school and college graduates are struggling to find a good job with a living wage,‚?Ě said Martin. ‚??Too many are caught in the Catch-22 that is often the hiring process; to find work, they need experience, but they can only gain experience from working. Schott‚??s apprenticeship program slices through this contradiction and offers nine trainees an opportunity to learn a valuable trade while working full time with benefits. At the same time, Schott gains a new generation of skilled workers to build on our 125 years of producing the world‚??s top glasses and materials, and advanced technologies.‚?Ě

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