Xl Machine Company’s Apprenticeship Program Fulfilling the Need for Skilled Tradesmen

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XL Machine Company, of Three Rivers, Michigan, launched a training program in 2016 aimed to bridge the gap between viable, local talent and the need for skilled tradesmen to take part in their prototype to production precision manufacturing model.

A member of the Burke Porter Group family of companies, XL Machine is a turnkey supplier of precision build-to-print components and assemblies, primarily for the automotive industry. Its capabilities include CNC grinding, CNC milling and turning, as well as assembly and quality inspection with coordinate measuring machines (CMMs).

Inspired by his own experience, XL Machine’s General Manager Chris Orlowski created an apprenticeship program back in 2013, while serving as the company’s manufacturing manager.

A Sense of Urgency

Orlowski recognized the demand for labor was increasing while the skilled labor force was shrinking. He felt sense of urgency to find a solution due to most of the company’s machinists were nearing retirement age – and their knowledge and skills would be lost.

The program launched in Spring 2015 with five employees. Three more team members joined in 2016. Participation is somewhat limited, due to a typical ratio of one apprentice to one journeyman machinist.

The goal of the program is to properly educate and inform their newly-onboarded members in how to use the company’s 84 CNC machines and 10 CMMs, as well as develop understanding on the ins-and-outs of the manufacturing industry.

To participate, an apprentice must be a high school graduate, because the program includes accredited college courses. The apprenticeship lasts approximately four years, and consists of 4,000 completed hours of work. Apprentices can choose to earn an associate’s degree as part of the program.

High School Co-op Program

The company also began partnering with vocational programs in local high schools to increase interest in the apprenticeship program and improve the chances of success for those who eventually join it.

The high school co-op program allows students to participate in cleaning and maintenance of the machines and equipment, providing hands-on shop floor experience for the potential future employees.

Co-op students must be at least 16 years old and in their Junior year of high school. A training agreement gives high school course credit for the program, and it is exempt from certain Michigan labor restrictions.

Community Benefits

Orlowski sees one of the main goals of both programs is to benefit the community as a whole by retaining local talent at XL and from moving away to larger metropolitan areas.

The idea is paying off: two current apprentices are pursuing the idea of staying at the company while studying for engineering degrees.

To promote the XL Machine training programs to the community, Orlowski joined a local economic development committee. The company also has won a Top Shop award and recognition from IMTS for its apprenticeship program, bringing additional public exposure to the company.

Industry Insights

In addition to machining, Orlowski believes most skilled trades, including plumbing, electrical and HVACR, are suffering from lack of vocational training.

“Apprenticeships used to be popular but were dropped over the years due to lack of interest,” Orlowski said. “But there is now a newfound interest in the craft.”

He projects that XL Machine’s training programs will continue to grow, along with the increasing demand in the automotive industry.

“There is a cyclical effect in this industry that is currently working in favor of programs like these,” he said.

For more information about the XL Machine apprenticeship and co-op programs, contact human.resources@xlmachine.com or (269) 279-5128.