AriensCo may be one of the biggest manufacturers of outdoor power equipment, but it’s people that have always been at the center of its company. Its Five Core Values — be fair, be honest, keep our commitments, respect the individual and encourage intellectual curiosity — don’t even mention products. Instead, they are focused on the people that contribute to its success, including the surrounding community of Brillion.
It’s in this spirit that the AriensCo Youth Apprenticeship Program seeks to provide support to young students in Wisconsin. It offers local high school students an opportunity to learn about manufacturing firsthand, working together with AriensCo engineers to study mechanical design and engineering.
The Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance recently recognized AriensCo with an Excellence in Manufacturing award for its youth apprenticeship program and its ability to form strong connections with local schools to change the perception of careers in manufacturing.
For AriensCo, the apprenticeship program is a prize in and of itself.
“The apprenticeship program brings out the best in our people,” said Dan Barker, manager, training and development continuous improvement at AriensCo. “Our employees have been so accommodating, so involved in the mentoring and training of these students.”
Barker, a member of the Wisconsin Apprenticeship Advisory Council, manages the apprenticeship program.
He has been involved in it for two years and says every student he’s worked with has been an ideal employee.
“The students come in nervous and shy, not really knowing what to expect,” he said. “It’s amazing how fast they get into the swing of things. You forget they’re younger than the rest of our employees.”
Jeffrey Kearns recently completed a youth apprenticeship at AriensCo and the 18-year-old is now carrying out a summer internship in tool design at the company before he goes to college for an associate degree in Mechanical Design Technology. It was his experience as a youth apprentice that piqued his interest in the subject.
“This program lets you work alongside employees who’ve been here almost 50 years, and they can teach you everything you need to know,” he said. “When you look at a snow blower, you see a finished product. You get here and you see all the pieces that make up that one product and you realize how much research and design goes into every product. I want to be the one coming up with those design ideas.”
The apprenticeship took Jeffrey two years, during which he passed the Ariens Welder Certification. He also gained an internal certificate in Continuous Improvement for manufacturing. To fit the apprenticeship around his regular schooling, he studied in the mornings and then worked the second shift of the day. During the summers he worked full time at AriensCo.
“It was an awesome experience and so eye-opening,” he said “You can learn the theory at school, but you can’t apply it in a real-world situation without the hands-on experience. I’ve been challenged in just about every area and learned from some incredible mentors. I would 100% recommend an apprenticeship.”
Natalie Sesvold, 17, is halfway through her youth apprenticeship in welding, and she’s already seeing the progress.
“It’s a very satisfying experience,” she said. “I’ve always been a hands-on learner, and a trade is a good thing to get into. Welding is a good fit for me because I enjoy seeing parts come together and holding the finished product in my hands.”
Sesvold is an also an ambassador for the program, which involves talking to state representatives and helping come up with ideas to get more schools involved in such initiatives. She also offers advice to fellow students.
“Apprenticeships are definitely something that more high school kids should take up to help get some experience, decide on a career choice and get a foot in the door,” she said. “It’s such a great opportunity. To anyone who has been thinking about it, I would say be open-minded and go for it!”
The AriensCo Youth Apprenticeship Program comes at a time when manufacturing companies around the U.S. are struggling to fill positions. A study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute predicts that manufacturing will see an estimated 2.4 million jobs unfilled between 2018 and 2028, and this shortfall could risk $2.5 trillion in manufacturing output.
Dan Ariens, chairman and CEO of AriensCo, says it’s important for companies to take the lead in helping prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century.
“Whether our apprentices join AriensCo in the future, seek out an entirely different career path or decide to go on to college, we are happy to expose these students to the tremendous opportunities that can be found in manufacturing,” Ariens said. “We truly think that the training we can offer will not only enrich their technical knowledge, but their life experience as a whole.”
The apprenticeship program at AriensCo seeks to connect students with quality jobs, including the opportunities that can be found at AriensCo. In many cases, those students can avoid the staggering student loans that come with university degrees. The benefits include a more educated workforce, more skilled workers, and in general, a richer community.
AriensCo’s apprenticeship opportunities extend well beyond students, too. The company also runs a Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) for adults. This type of apprenticeship program is a proven model that has been validated by the U.S. Department of Labor and/or a State Apprenticeship Agency. The goal is to help companies create a larger talent pool from which to pull talent, particularly when geography might give rise to challenges.
“Brillion is still a small community and it would be costly for us to go to areas such as Green Bay or the Fox Cities to compete for skilled talent to fill key roles,” Barker said. “Apprenticeships enable a ‘grow your own culture’ approach, which has been very successful for us. We don’t have to worry about the skills gap, as we make the most of the talent we already have within our organization and we help our people to become something they did not realize they could become.”
At AriensCo, 26 employees are currently participating in the RAP, 11 of whom are following the industrial manufacturing technician (IMT) pathway. Like the youth apprentices, RAP apprentices have a school year and need to accumulate a defined number of schooling hours at an area technical college to meet their overall goal.
“There can be a misconception that apprenticeships are for young people in entry-level positions, but our programs open up opportunities for folks of all ages. Some pathways, like our industrial electrician apprenticeship, are highly technical,” Barker said.
AriensCo internally advertises these apprenticeships based on positions the company needs to fill. Then it carries out interviews and selects the best candidates, much as it fills its other job vacancies. The main difference is that the program supports employees who do not already have the skills and experience required to make the next move in their career.
Most of the registered apprenticeships are for very specific roles, such as a qualified machinist or maintenance millwright mechanic. The exception is the IMT apprenticeship, which is a broader and more generalized pathway, giving employees the opportunity to increase their overall manufacturing skills. Ultimately, the IMT develops people to become more promotable to roles such as team leader, production trainer, or fabrication/machining technician.
Kyle Dedering applied for a machine operator position at AriensCo straight out of high school and after a year was accepted onto a four-year registered machinist apprenticeship, which he completed in 2018. Today he is a registered journey worker at the company.
“Beyond learning practical skills like reading blueprints, running raw parts and troubleshooting, I also developed my people and communication skills. I had the opportunity to work with off-site vendors, which boosted my confidence in public speaking.”
“AriensCo goes above and beyond to further develop anyone in personal and technical skills. AriensCo has given me everything at its disposal — advisors, teaching, qualifications — to make me successful today," he said.