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Manufacturing Apprenticeship Preps New Supervisors for New Duties

August 28, 2023

At a Glance

In Massachusetts, a Registered Apprenticeship helps newly promoted supervisors make the transition from the shop floor to leadership roles.

Becky Calwell Senior Program Manager, Center for Apprenticeship & Work-Based Learning
Practices & Centers

When Pedro Juan Alicea Jr. was promoted to a supervisor’s role, he felt unprepared for his new responsibilities. That all changed by the time he completed a Registered Apprenticeship program.

Alicea is a fabricating supervisor at Columbia Manufacturing Inc. in Westfield, Massachusetts, which makes furniture for schools and colleges around the country. He started working at Columbia Manufacturing as a laborer when he was 18. He eventually learned to weld and worked as a welder and fabricator before being asked to become the supervisor of his department.

“Not having gone to college, I didn’t think I could do it,” he said.

But with the support of his employer, Alicea enrolled in a program that prepared him to succeed in the new job: the Front Line Supervisor Apprenticeship sponsored by MassMEP, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership in Massachusetts.

Jobs for the Future (JFF) supports the MassMEP program with technical and financial assistance through its Improving Diversity and Equity in Apprenticeships for Manufacturing (IDEA-M) project.

Easing the Transition

Karen Myhaver, program manager for the Front Line Supervisor Apprenticeship, said MassMEP created the program in 2019 in response to requests from the state’s manufacturers.

In manufacturing, it’s not uncommon for employers to ask members of their production teams to become supervisors. And as was the case with Alicea, the transition can present challenges for those who are tapped for promotion. Often, the new supervisors have little training and aren’t prepared for their new responsibilities.

“We expect them to be able to do it. But a lot of people didn’t sign up for that—going from working with your hands to dealing with human-resources-related issues,” Myhaver said.

A lot of people didn’t sign up for that—going from working with your hands to dealing with human-resources-related issues.

Karen Myhaver, Program Manager, Front Line Supervisor Apprenticeship, MassMEP

Apprentices in the one-year Front Line Supervisor program complete 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 150 hours of related training focusing on leadership, manufacturing principles, and problem solving.

The MassMEP apprenticeship runs as a consortium, with the participants gathering virtually from across the state several times a month for their related training. Some apprentices are newer employees who are in line to become supervisors, while others are veteran supervisors who never had any formal training. Myhaver said the veteran supervisors help mentor the newer supervisors.

“They have a lot to offer because of their experience,” she said. “They warn the others about what not to do.”

Pedro Juan Alicea Jr., Fabricating supervisor, Columbia Manufacturing


Immediate Impact

From the beginning of the program, apprentices gain skills and knowledge they can put into practice immediately. As a capstone project, they develop solutions to problems in their own workplaces, and then they gather in person to present their projects at the end of the program.

“A lot of them complete some fantastic projects with significant impacts that wow their management team. That’s what we like to see,” Myhaver said.

MassMEP is part of the MEP National Network, a public-private partnership that supports manufacturers across the country. Fifteen of the 51 MEPs offer at least one Registered Apprenticeship program, covering occupations that include industrial maintenance, robotics, and CNC machining.

Eleven cohorts have participated in the MassMEP Front Line Supervisor Apprenticeship, and about 100 apprentices have completed it.

Alicea completed the program in March 2022. He said it prepared him well for his role as supervisor at Columbia Manufacturing. He encourages everyone to take advantage of opportunities like the MassMEP Registered Apprenticeship program.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “When opportunity knocks, you open that door.”

When opportunity knocks, you open that door.

Pedro Juan Alicea Jr., Fabricating Supervisor, Columbia Manufacturing Inc.