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Owensboro Apprenticeship Program Creating Pipeline for Advanced Manufacturing

Kentucky manufacturers are confronting a problem facing the entire United States – a shortage of skilled workers for technically sophisticated industries. A recent study found that two million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. will go unfilled over the next decade due to a lack of trained workers. A program developed in the Owensboro region is confronting that shortage with an apprenticeship program called GO FAME. 

At Sun Windows in Owensboro, President Frank Anderson says the machinery for production gets more sophisticated every year.

“This our insulated glass room. And the robot is applying the spacer material that separates the two panes of glass. And it’s all done automatically without ever touching a human hand.”

That’s the trend in advanced manufacturing and that’s the reason GO FAME was created. GO FAME stands for Greater Owensboro Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education. 

Apprentices take classes two days a week at Owensboro Community and Technical College. Companies pay at least half the tuition and at least $12-an-hour for work time.

Anderson says the four apprentices at Sun Windows, James Sloan, Walker Hohiemer, Colby Jarboe and Stephen Perez, get on-the-job training three days a week.

“The GO FAME candidates have taken on some projects in this area, where they’ve totally rebuilt this glass washer out here, taking it completely apart, replacing bearings, fittings pumps hoses.”

That’s just one of the projects 18-year-old Colby Jarboe has worked on. Jarboe is from Fordsville in Ohio County and says he’s always loved tinkering with mechanical things – and there are plenty of those at Sun Windows.

“It’s always different, it’s not the same thing over and over again. I love that. You come in here and you never really what you’re going to do.”

Sometimes it’s a bigger question of what you’re going to do, in terms of a career. That’s how 22-year-old Stephen Perez of Whitesville in Daviess County got into the program.

“I’ve tried school a couple of different times. I went for business administration once and then kinda lost interest. Then I went for physical therapy once and lost interest and then I found this program.”

Perez says he’s always liked to fix things and now he’s learning to work on machines for manufacturing.

“You get to learn what you learn in class, like right now we’re in fluid power and circuits one, and so we’re learning all about hydraulics, pneumatics and then once you see ‘em in the workplace, it starts to make more sense.”

William Mounts is vice president of Omico Plastics, one of 22 companies participating in the apprenticeship program. Mounts is also president of GO FAME.

“It’s really a win-win for the student because all of those fears of what am I going to do and how am I going to pay for it, that's taken away from them.”

Eighteen-year-old Walker Hohiemer is from Lewisport in Hancock County and wasn’t sure what he was going to do after high school, until he found GO FAME and Sun Windows.

“Right now, I’m tearing down walls,” said Hohiemer, who has worked on machines at Sun Windows, built a loading dock and now is working on a renovation project. “Then Monday or Tuesday, we’re taking out the ductwork.”

Hohiemer may be tearing down walls now, but what he’s hoping to do is build a solid foundation for a career. He’s part of a statewide effort in Kentucky that includes 3,000 apprentices and 1,100 employers. In a video announcing the state’s commitment to expanding apprenticeship programs, Gov. Matt Bevin says more companies  have to get involved in the initiative called “Kentucky Trained. Kentucky Built.”

“We want to create opportunities through apprenticeships for every single man and woman in Kentucky that wants to pursue a new career path or broaden the one they’re already  on.”

Kentucky has received a grant of nearly $900,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor as part of the Apprenticeship USA program. The grant will help add 1,300 apprentices across the state who will be “Kentucky Trained” and who will be encouraged to help create a stronger economy that’s “Kentucky Built.”

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