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Case Study/Profile

Driving Opportunity with Mack Trucks Lehigh Valley Apprenticeships

January 6, 2023

Apprentices Nicole DeFuso and Nikki Miller are changing the course of their careers while learning valuable skills. DeFuso and Miller are currently enrolled in a Registered Apprenticeship at Pennsylvania-based Mack Trucks Lehigh Valley Operations. Employing about 2,700 people, the facility produces heavy-duty trucks for both North American and international markets, and offers apprenticeships in four skilled trades—electrical, millwright, layout (tool & die), and welding.

“This has been an incredible opportunity, and I’m glad I was part of it,” said Miller, who has been in the electrical apprenticeship for the past two years.

Jobs for the Future (JFF) and its partner, Keystone Development Partnership, provided financial support to the program in 2021 through the Improving Diversity and Equity in Manufacturing Apprenticeships (IDEA-M) project, which offset the cost of the related training instruction provided at Lehigh Carbon Community College. The company and the United Auto Workers Local 677 launched the apprenticeship program in 2001 and manage it through a Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee.

Through customized training, our apprentices build their skill sets working directly with our equipment, enabling them to become very efficient in supporting the Mack Trucks manufacturing facility as they progress through and complete the program.

Thomas Gombos, Maintenance Manager, Mack Trucks Lehigh Valley Operations

Both of DeFuso’s parents worked at the plant, and DeFuso began working at the plant in 2005 after deciding that college wasn’t for her. She was working in the plant’s paint department when she decided to take the test for the apprenticeship program.

DeFuso chose to do an apprenticeship in the layout (tool & die) department, an area that interested her because of the emphasis on design. She’s been in the program for about two years, learning new skills under the guidance of experienced mentors.

“Everyone in the shop has been really helpful,” she said. “I know there aren’t a lot of women in this field, and that did worry me a little bit. But I don’t feel like they are treating me any differently.”

DeFuso has taken most of the required classes at Lehigh Carbon Community College and plans to continue taking classes until she has earned an additional credential—her associate’s degree

Miller went to work at the Mack Trucks plant in 2004 after being laid off from another job. Like DeFuso, she was familiar with the plant because her father worked there.

She chose the electrical apprenticeship because she has a background in design and drafting. She tracks her on-the-job training on a chart, and it’s clear she’s making progress. She can now work independently on projects, including rewiring “tuggers”—the machines that pull materials around the plant.

“Don’t get me wrong—I have a way to go,” she said. “But I’m always learning.”

Like DeFuso, Miller said the journey workers who serve as her mentors are supportive and helpful, and their top priority is safety.

Thomas Gombos, the facility’s maintenance manager, said the program offers the company a way to provide both general skills training and training customized to the facility’s equipment. “Through customized training, our apprentices build their skill sets working directly with our equipment, enabling them to become very efficient in supporting the Mack Trucks manufacturing facility as they progress through and complete the program,” he said.

Bruce Miller, a District V Committee coordinator for the United Auto Workers Local 677, added that through this Registered Apprenticeship program, the facility meets the critical need for skilled labor. When vacant positions are filled internally via apprentices, the company avoids using contract labor.

“Now the apprentices can walk through and say, ‘I did that,’” Miller said. “There’s a lot of pride and a sense of ownership. It’s an investment in everyone’s future.”

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