September 15, 2022

Building the Future of Construction: Growing an Apprenticeship Program at EquipmentShare

Apprentice Keith Sablan

“Apprenticeship programs are shorter and more economical than a university, so these kids are graduating with little or no debt and starting in jobs with great pay right off the bat. How can you beat that?” — Kalynn Ramsey, manager of Apprenticeship Programs, EquipmentShare.

One of the most significant challenges throughout the United States has been a shortage of qualified skilled workers, especially in the construction industry. After decades of societal change and secondary schools encouraging students to pursue four-year colleges, the consequences of students not pursuing skilled trades have reached the surface.

As skilled workers age and retire from skilled trades, fewer young people are filling that gap.  PeopleReady Skilled Trades, a labor staffing organization, found 40% of the 12 million people in the skilled trades are older than the age of 45, and fewer than 9% of workers aged 19-24 are entering the skilled trades.

That’s why EquipmentShare set out on a mission in 2021 to create a pipeline of skilled workers to help build the future of construction. In addition to regular recruiting programs at colleges and career fairs, EquipmentShare brought in an expert to build an apprenticeship program from the ground up, and encourage younger generations to learn skilled trades.

Kalynn Ramsey joined EquipmentShare in July 2021 after serving as the director of member engagement and professional development for the Missouri Community College Association.

“My job was connecting people to opportunities within the organization and managing professional development opportunities,” Kalynn said.

Kalynn Ramsey, Apprenticeship program manager

Many community colleges and technical schools have apprenticeship programs that make them the perfect recruiting grounds for companies like EquipmentShare. 

“One of the bad things about a good economy is that community colleges suffer because fewer people are going back to school and learning new trades,” Kalynn said. “When the economy declines, more people are looking for jobs and going back to school. We want to create a consistent population of students and sort of turn the tide away from telling kids they have to attend a four-year college or university. We had to take a look at our programming and figure out what we need to offer to have people come back to community colleges, and that experience has helped me to build this program.”

Building a program from scratch with a rapidly-expanding company was a daunting challenge, but Kalynn took it head-on. She used her background and connections to get started. The first step – registering EquipmentShare with the Missouri Department of Labor. EquipmentShare’s Home Office, located in Columbia, Mo., was the best place to start.

“The current workforce has a labor shortage and we need skilled tradespeople to enter the workforce rapidly,” Kalynn said. “To provide an opportunity for students to join our team, we needed to get started ASAP.”

“Apprenticeships aren’t new, but they kind of are. Actually building out the program has been a learning experience. Some trade schools, like UTI, already have an apprenticeship program, so we don’t need to register through the state.”

By registering with a state’s Department of Labor, or equivalent, apprentices can earn certificates based on the hours of in-seat learning and on-the-job training completed. Kalynn, along with the Learning and Development Team, Technical Training Manager Pete Bradstreet and Service Support Manager Shane Tucker, has created a tiered-system of assessing technical skills and placing apprentices into the appropriate level. Level one is a beginner while level four is more advanced and would merit a higher pay scale.

Ely Bullock, Columbia, Mo. apprentice

“If a technician comes to us with on-the-job experience and some school experience and we assess them at level two, we would pay them at that level and add their experience to the Department of Labor system so they can walk in on day one with earned hours,” Kalynn said. 

The process can be compared to high school students who take college-level dual credit classes and enter college at a higher level than a first-semester freshman. 

Since July 2021, EquipmentShare has been registered in Missouri as a certified apprenticeship site for Construction Equipment Mechanics and CDL (Truck Driving) programs. EquipmentShare plans to grow the program nationwide and has compensation programs, and offers tuition and tool reimbursement.

“When we hire an apprentice and they come to work for us, we want them to stay,” Kalynn said. “If we are going to train them and pay for their schooling, we want them to commit to three years with EquipmentShare, and be willing to locate where we need them most. This company puts people first. We will do everything to set them up for a successful career within this industry and hopefully with us – for a very long time.”

Kalynn works with technical schools and EquipmentShare branches across the country to determine which branches will make the best training grounds for new apprentices. Several competitor rental companies have established apprenticeship programs to compete for new, young talent.

A scholarship has been established at Hillsborough Community College in Florida, and partnerships have been formed with 10 technical schools or colleges across the county – a couple of those colleges have several locations across the country. 

Moberly Area Community College (MACC), with several campuses in Missouri, is one school that has partnered with EquipmentShare.

“MACC prides itself on working closely with employers who can provide its students with the same positive culture that is modeled in the classroom,” William King, MBA, MAT, business and marketing instructor for MACC, said.  “EquipmentShare is the epitome of what a workplace environment can be and is appreciated by all MACC stakeholders.”

Keith Sablan, Tyler, Texas apprentice

Ranken Technical College has also teamed up with EquipmentShare to identify and train apprentices in the St. Louis, Mo., area. 

“We truly value the commitment EquipmentShare has made to Ranken Technical College,” Shannon Brueggemann, dean of academic affairs, Ranken Technical College, said. “From their valuable feedback on curriculum, to allowing our students to work with their dedicated mentors on their internships, EquipmentShare’s relationship has been vital to offering a quality education in our Diesel Technology program.” 

“We are looking for branches with great leadership to help apprentices feel supported,” Kalynn said. “We also need locations that are not overwhelmingly busy so they have time to teach the apprentices and they can learn our standards. We can build a successful program and pipeline to gain qualified technicians with our whole team working together. We have three apprentices in the program now completing their on-the-job training. By 2023, I hope to have one apprentice at each branch that has expressed interest in participating.”

Reversing the nationwide shortage of skilled workers will take time. Kalynn and EquipmentShare are up for the challenge.

“What we need to do going forward is start early,” Kalynn said. “If we can change the tide from pushing all kids toward four-year colleges and start showing them all the options, we can grow the labor pool.” 

For more information about EquipmentShare’s apprenticeship program click here

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