Apprenticeship program at CF garners attention

It was no easy task getting the new Lockheed Martin apprenticeship lab at the College of Central Florida off the ground, but now organizers hope it will serve as a pilot program for similar sites across the nation.

The lab took at least two years of planning between several state and local organizations to establish the skill-based apprenticeship program teaching Lockheed Martin employees how to solder electronic components on circuit boards.

Ahmed Parker, a technical training associate manager for Lockheed Martin, gives a demonstration of how to solder a circuit board in the new Lockheed Martin Innovative Apprenticeship Lab at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
On Tuesday, CF unveiled the new lab at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by state and local representatives.

“It took a while to get all the partners involved on the same page with how we could work this because it’s not a traditional apprenticeship. We were looking for something a little more innovative… Now, others are wanting to emulate what we’re doing,” said Jim Henningsen, CF president.

Traditionally, apprenticeship programs center around the construction trades. Employees work during the day and then attend evening classes in plumbing, air conditioning, framing and other specialties.

The Lockheed Martin apprenticeship program starts in the classroom. After the company hires workers, they attend two weeks of soldering training. The program leaves workers ready to continue their two-year apprenticeship as electronics associates at Lockheed Martin’s Ocala facility, where they work manufacturing components used in defense and aerospace systems.

“This site gives us the added flexibility we desperately needed,” said Jeff Chang, the senior human resources manager in Ocala.

So far, nearly two dozen employees have trained at the lab, and another group is ready to start on May 24. In addition to new employees, Lockheed Martin engineers also will take basic soldering classes at the lab.

The College of Central Florida, CareerSource Florida and Lockheed Martin opened the lab in partnership to help apprentices build careers in the aerospace industry and earn college credit. The program will allow Lockheed apprentices and associates to hone their skills in soldering and wiring to manufacture components for the aerospace and defense industries. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
“It will help them be better engineers and understand the process our operators have to go through,” Chang said.

He said the Ocala facility is often called on to break new ground.

“Ocala has always been the incubator for looking at new ideas and different ways of doing things. We’re going to be looking at this for other parts of Florida and nationwide as well. It’s a great partnership we’ve built here, and we’re glad that we were able to get this to come to fruition,” Chang said.

Lockheed provides the equipment and instructors, CF provides the space, and the state-affiliated CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion helps identify candidates for the program and grants to help pay for the training.

Henningsen hopes to expand the model to other industries, including logistics and healthcare.

“This is an example of how it can work,” he said. “It’s all about partnerships and thinking outside the box. These are innovative apprenticeships, a completely different model of apprenticeships. It’s supported by our legislative leadership and the executive branch. They want to have programs that will accelerate economic growth and job creation.”

Kevin Sheilley, president and CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership, was encouraged by the program’s kickoff.

“I’ve been in this for 26 years, and for 26 years, we’ve been talking about skills-based apprenticeships. There is momentum, and then it fades, and then there is momentum, and then it fades. Now, it’s real. It’s no longer talk,” Sheilley said. “I can’t say it enough, it’s all about the partnerships. The fact that all these groups not only can work together but will work together. That is the secret sauce.”

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