This summer, Michael O’Neal found himself out of work and looking for a job. Little did he know that, by summer’s end, he would find not just a job but a career through a new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) registered apprenticeship program from Central Six AlabamaWorks.
O’Neal is a U.S. DOL registered apprentice for Commercial Metals Company (CMC) Steel, where he works full-time while attending classes at Lawson State Community College. His daily work includes maintaining the expansive equipment inside the facility, making sure the machinery in the plant is up and running safely. It was a job he never saw coming that he hopes will turn into a lifelong career.
After his apprenticeship ends in 2023, O’Neal is guaranteed a job at CMC Steel in a high-demand field, an option more and more local companies are utilizing to train and retain skilled workers in a tight labor market.
“If I had my way, I’d work here until I’m 70,” O’Neal said. “I’m staying for the long haul. They’ll have to run me off.”
Central Six, after extensive research into the manufacturing industry across the region, found that the biggest workforce needs stemmed from industrial maintenance, so it created a registered apprenticeship for the industry.
O’Neal is one of three industrial maintenance apprentices Central Six brought onboard this year. The other two are employed at O-Flex Metal Finishing in Clanton and are being upskilled from previous positions there. They are attending classes at Jefferson State Community College.
Apprenticeships are a hot topic across Birmingham, the state of Alabama and the United States. In the comprehensive Building (it) Together report, alternate training opportunities like apprenticeships were named a key workforce recommendation as the Birmingham region looks to close the gap between having too many jobs and not enough people to fill them. Companies like Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Kamtek and others around the region are having success with apprenticeship programs. Through the state’s Apprenticeship Alabama initiative, companies can earn a tax credit through registered apprenticeship programs.
Apprenticeships like this one address multiple workforce needs, from providing career opportunities to those who do not have a four-year college degree to allowing employers to hire workers immediately and train them on-the-job, said Antiqua Cleggett, executive director of Central Six AlabamaWorks.
“With a historically low unemployment rate and limited future supply of students interested in a career in manufacturing, employers have to be innovative in developing new talent pipelines for their critical positions,” she said. “Federally registered apprenticeship models, including the Central Six industrial maintenance apprenticeship program, help meet this need by providing employers the opportunity to grow their own workforce through on-the-job training and classroom instruction. These programs benefit employers and apprentices alike, increasing retention and productivity for employers as well as providing apprentices with a livable wage and stable career path.”
Learn more about apprenticeships across the region here: