Apprenticeship Survives

By Lloyd Graff

The Hydromat Management team (President Bruno Schmitter center) pose with two new Apprentice graduates as they receive their diplomas.

One of the prevailing myths in manufacturing today is that “there are no good people.” The reality is that there are good people, but you have to invest in them to make them top notch.

Hydromat, the Swiss-American rotary transfer machine company in St. Louis, is making that investment today in young people coming out of nearby community colleges with a four-year in-house training program. The apprenticeship approach still works well in Europe, but it is rare to find companies in the U.S. with the long-term view to commit to a $50,000 training program in exchange for a two-year work commitment from the candidate.

Rob Luth makes a Project Cost/Benefit Analysis presentation to the Executive Staff as part of the final exam. Luth would later become promoted to Hydromat’s Mechanical Engineering Manager.

Hydromat skims the elite from the 350 local kids who apply. Kelley Dumey, the company’s HR specialist, searches for technical aptitude, but it also looks for the unusual ones with drive to go with their skills. She is looking for long-term Hydromat employees who can make a difference in the company, not just fill a slot.

Students start out in the machine shop using manual and CNC equipment and then move on to the grind shop for three months. Then they move to assembly and electrical. Rebuilding is the next stop, which enables the trainees to tear a machine down and physically see the wear points of a rotary transfer. Accompanying technicians on service calls also acquaints them with real-world issues Hydromat clients face each day in the high production high precision world.

Bruno Schmitter, President & CEO (seated) and Steve Thomas, Machine Shop Superintendent, review apprentice projects during the final judging before graduation.

To graduate students need to put in 144 industry related training hours per year. The Hydromat apprenticeships are highly sought after. Less than 1% of applicants are picked and not all make it through. But Hydromat is a demanding work setting with extremely high standards. If a young person makes it through the Hydromat apprenticeship they have instant credibility. For them, it’s the stuff that builds a career. For Hydromat, it’s all about building a business and a culture that thrives.

Question: Should the federal government help fund large-scale apprenticeships?

Question: Was the Tea Party stand good for America?

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14 thoughts on “Apprenticeship Survives

  1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    I think the government does fund apprenticeship programs in the U.S. But when you Google “government funded apprenticeships” the first eight or so results are British web sites. That’s telling.

  2. Bill Thornburgh

    No. Our government is in the trouble it currently has because they do not stick to the Constitution. Let the government take care of the duties outlined in the Constitution, and let private business take care of itself. Every time our government gets involved in something it cost the tax payers double or triple what it would cost private industry.

  3. Josh

    Bill, allow me to introduce you to the US Constitution.

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    1. Monte


      Promoting the general welfare isn’t very specific, but probably wasn’t meant to be as broad as you are promoting. I do not believe the forefathers ever fathomed socialized insurance mandates, a president taking aim at one class to give to another, arming of our enemies by our own government in Syria and Mexico, or the double taxation that Americans are subject to.

    2. tony

      Josh, “promote the general welfare” means that the government’s job is not to distribute funds, but to actually have the responsibility of ensuring that their policies benefit all Americans, equally, and that they promote an equally opportunistic environment through such policies for all to succeed. That is all. Never had anything to do with public works projects.

  4. Val Zanchuk

    The Ted Cruz-Tea Party inspired shutdown was disaster. They had no strategy and no chance of winning. These politicians are showing their ignorance of economics, business, and the Constitution. They got outflanked by Sen McConnell and have established an increasingly out of touch base that has the likelihood of destroying the Republican Party. The Republican’s have become anti-business, anti-pragmatic, and anti-growth. I could see a split of the party coming, pragmatic Republicans on one side and Tea Party radicals on the other, which would keep the Democrats in charge for a long time.

  5. Ed

    Government does not need to fund apprenticeships directly per se, but the Government should create a climate where it is in the best interest of a business to train apprentices. Another huge bloated program will only create a drain on the business it is trying to help. Adam Smith wrote about apprenticeships in 1776 and the concepts are still applicable today. The free market will dictate what trades people need to train in and Gvt should only establish a climate where business want to train people.

  6. Richard Rudy

    The problem with “government funded apprenticeships” is the same problem as with government funded anything: by the time the government figures out what it thinks will be a “winner”, time and economics will have passed it by. Witness: solar panels, batteries, ethanol, the list goes on and on.

    Stop asking the government to be our savior; it is no damn good at anything but saving itself, and pretty poor at that, too.

  7. Seth Emerson

    I see apprenticeships as another form of schooling, like Junior/Community Colleges and other state sponsored schools. The goal of the colleges is to maximize the productivity of the students, so they can contribute to society. Perhaps apprenticeships can be supported in the same manner as the other state sponsored schools.

  8. Bryan Balog

    As a tool and diemaker and small shop owner I have strongly supported Apprenticeship Training. I served mine at Caterpillar Tractor Co. Government support should come in the form of a support function and tracking, as it has been in the past, the frame work is there and needs to be promoted. I have helped teach locally a the Comm. Collage with a state funded Grant for apprenticeship classroom instruction. This worked well until the money ran out and the shops decided that it was OK to stop if they had to chip in. The actual program each shop uses should be developed by the shop with some guidance. I say this because every shop I have worked in in the last 48 years has the need for different talents and they would need to develop the talents according to there needs.

    Junior and Senior High Schools are where we need to promote the Machining Trades.
    I do this when I do Career Days at our local schools.

    Bryan Balog: Toolmaker, Tool Engineer, and Tool Room Manger

  9. David Hill

    As someone that went through a apprenticeship i can say they are a great way to train the next generation. They gave me and my the class that didn’t feel college was right for us a future and a shoot at the middle class. I now work on cnc machines for a living and can say the vast majority of mom and pop shop i go in to for service. That the owner graduate from a apprenticeship that should tell you something right there. I am personal against the government in the apprenticeship programs the gov made mine worse not better. With class that i didn’t need and requirement to let people in for quota that didn’t have the education to graduate thus taking spot from people that could have done well

  10. Eric

    I’m tired of hearing about the Tea Party being a “bunch of crazy radicals”. Let’s look past the liberal name calling and character assassination. I’m not a Tea Party participant but I did go to one Oswego, Illinois rally in 2012 out of curiosity. Everyone there was peaceable and “normal”. My impression of the Tea Party is regular folks who are concerned about out of control spending and lack of respect for the Constitution by politicians. Why is that a radical notion?? I guess when you can’t compete with an idea you bully, manipulate and berate to get your way… sounds like communism to me.

    1. D K

      Eric, the only reason that the Tea Party is perceived to be an assemblage of “crazy radicals” is because that is the image they project. The gathering you attended may have been peaceable and “normal”, but we’ve seen dozens of examples where that demonstrably was not the case, e.g. signs depicting President Obama as Hitler, labeling him as a Muslim, Communist, or Socialist. It’s especially entertaining when someone from the Tea Party refers to him as a communist/socialist. I’ve also noticed a nearly laughable ignorance of the Constitution by members of the Party as well. A glaring example of this was one of the Tea Party identified Members of Congress declaring that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, when just a few months ago the United States Supreme Court ruled that the mandate is indeed constitutional. I was amazed, though not surprised, that a sitting Member of Congress seems to be unaware of recent Supreme Court rulings, especially when the focus of the Tea Party childish tirade ala Ted Cruz was the “repeal” of the Affordable Care Act. Lastly, Ted Cruz, when declaring the Affordable Car Act to be illegal must have missed the part in the Constitution delineating how bills are made into law in this the U.S. Being an attorney and a former Supreme Court he is fully aware of how law is made in the U.S., but many of his Tea Party followers obviously are not, and he was simply playing off their ignorance to appease them and to garner popularity among the fringe voters of the GOP.


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