Mobile Track Solutions develops apprenticeship program for local students

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In May, Mobile Track Solutions (MTS) hosted the inaugural group for the pilot MTS Weld Apprenticeship Program. Graduates Brandon Whittle, Tanner Rose and Ryan Wettleson posed for a photo during the apprenticeship sign-on day, where they officially joined MTS and signed employment offer letters after successfully completing the program. (Submitted photos)

Tanner Rose works with scrap metal on a welding project as part of the MTS Weld Apprenticeship Program.

Weld Apprenticeship Program student Brandon Whittle sits in front of a welding project during one of the hands-on lessons taught by an MTS mentor.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

It was toward the end of last year when the upper leadership team at Mobile Track Solutions (MTS) started looking for ways to promote student and local school involvement, as well as create a pipeline of potential future employees, alter the stigma that sometimes comes with jobs such as welding and inform students they don’t have to leave the area to find successful careers. 

 

“At Mobile Track Solutions, our internal culture is something we have invested into heavily, primarily focusing on three values: our people, our products, our passion. By opening our doors to the local schools at Manufacturing Day in the fall and participating in career fairs, we have found  there are many students interested in the careers we offer,” said MTS Marketing Director Taylor Bockenstedt. 

 

With those goals in mind, Bockenstedt and others on the leadership team started developing what would become a 16-week apprenticeship program where students would learn welding/fabrication fundamentals as well as safety procedures and processes, understand different tooling and participate in a variety of classroom lessons and hands-on experiences.

 

“The goal is to allow students to learn more about the fundamentals of working in a manufacturing position, while giving them visibility to real-world situations in the workplace. We strive to bring opportunities to these students in order to show what career opportunities are available within Clayton County,” Bockenstedt explained. 

 

One of the first steps in getting the program off the ground was talking with other employees, specifically welders, who helped advise on the welding aspects and essentials of job. According to Bockenstedt, employees directly helped with the creation of the curriculum and were exceedingly supportive of the endeavor. 

 

With the welders on board, all they had to do at that point was locate students who wanted to participate in the program, and this is where school tours, job fairs and communicating with local shop teachers was essential. 

 

When it comes to the attached stigma, Bockenstedt made it clear welding is not a dirty job and the stereotype surrounding it is faulty, especially at MTS, where the job comes with opportunities for growth and is viewed as a rewarding occupation by current staff. Part of the scope of the program is to combat this negative perception and the current decline in people entering the trade professions. 

 

This means one of the program outcomes is the development of a skilled workforce for an occupation in high demand, and this is one way MTS is looking to fill the void of workers. It also provides employees who are already versed in how MTS operates, meaning little re-training has to take place. 

 

The students who apply get hired, something all three of the pilot program graduates, Brandon Whittle, Tanner Rose and Ryan Wettleson, were able to accomplish. 

 

Additionally, having gone though the program, they have existing relationships and a rapport with the rest of the staff, and most importantly, they aren’t taking their talents out of the community.  

 

One of the more unique features of the MTS program is that, not only does MTS provide all the necessary materials needed for work, but it also a fully paid apprenticeship program. Essentially, the students are treated like regular MTS employees during their shifts, which took place after school from Monday to Thursday, from 4 to 8 p.m. During this time, each student participated in some classroom work and safety protocols and, of course, worked on welding projects with scrap metal—all under the watchful eye and guidance of a mentor. 

 

Bockenstedt noted  each day was different and varied depending on what was being taught. 

 

There is no official testing, though the students are assessed on several items, including attendance, attitude, compliance with rules and their welding ability. However, there is a sort of welding exam that takes place during the first days of the program, where the students do an initial weld. They then complete another weld at the end. 

 

It’s basically a pass/fail system, but over the course of the 16-week program, it’s expected each student will learn, improve and perform a better weld than when they arrived. 

 

After they complete the program, the students are then encouraged to apply for open positions within MTS, a procedure Bockenstedt stated helps them learn the application process, including an interview. It’s used as a learning experience, a valuable tool should the student seek employment elsewhere. MTS prepares them not just for the job, but to actually get the job as well. 

 

Regarding the future of the program, Bockenstedt said MTS is looking for ways to add more curriculum, stress the importance of quality, establish improved time efficiency and create similar programs for other areas of the business, such as industrial painting and CNC machining. Both of these programs are in the early stages, with no timeline attached to when they will fully be available. 

 

Bockenstedt said MTS owner John Moyna was “over the moon” about how the program turned out. 

 

As for Bockenstedt, “Overall, our pilot program went very well and we were very happy with the results. It was really cool.” 

 

As the program continues to develop, Bockenstedt stated it will most likely remain on the January through May schedule. Anyone interested in applying needs to contact HR at MTS. 

 

Bockenstedt noted the company is in the process of creating a more formal application process because demand could outweigh available space, though this is also still in the early developmental stage. 

 

“We want to keep local talent here for years to come,” she said. 

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