Local 1150 is made up of entirely of Sikorsky employees in Connecticut and Florida. These members work to make helicopters that the United States military depend on every day. In Stratford, Conn., at Sikorsky headquarters, a unique youth apprenticeship program exists: juniors and seniors from seven local high schools have the opportunity to be full-fledged union members and get first-hand experience at getting their hands dirty in a manufacturing facility.
The Sikorsky Teamster Career Pathways program is a unique one that is the cornerstone of union apprenticeship programs nationwide. Nowhere else can high schoolers get in-depth manufacturing and work experience, soft-skills development and the opportunity to start a career with Sikorsky and the Teamsters.
The unique partnership between Sikorsky and the Teamsters has drawn such high praise and recognition that even the White House highlighted the Teamster Youth Apprenticeship program at this year’s Apprenticeship Week festivities. This apprentice program has restored hope in Connecticut’s manufacturing community, and provides a model of what manufacturing, in partnership with a union, can look like in the United States.
Career Pathways Program
The Career Pathways Program was modeled after one that IBEW started in Massachusetts and was being replicated in various industries at several different unions with modest success. With funding from the local workforce development board, grants and investment from Sikorsky and Local 1150, in 2002 the program was born. The partnership between Local 1150 and Sikorsky has stood above the rest and continues to make strides in the industry.
Students who wish to become part of this premier program must endure a competitive application and selection process. To be considered for this program, interested junior and seniors must have an exceptional academic record, extracurricular activities and volunteering experience. Applicants are asked to describe why they are interested in an internship in manufacturing and why they should be selected for this opportunity. Once accepted, these students will have eight weeks as full-fledged Local 1150 members. They will learn what employment at a manufacturing facility is like, learn a component of labor history and develop relevant workforce skills that are not traditionally taught in schools.
“When I started this program, I had no idea that I would end up going to school at night for engineering and that I was kickstarting an exciting career at Sikorsky,” said Elizabeth Petroski, a machinist in the Experimental Machining department. Petroski, who participated in both years of the internship program, has now completed her first summer as a mentor. “I was an intern the last two years, and I wanted to give back to the program, to help steer someone to a career at Sikorsky like I was.”
Turning Life Skills into Work Skills
One of the most special aspects of the Pathways program is that a great deal of the mentors have participated and graduated from the same program as their mentees. It creates a sense of camaraderie and reinforces the aspect of community among the Sikorsky workforce.
Petroski’s mentor did not participate in the Sikorsky Teamster Youth Apprenticeship program, but for Tony Levinsky, mentoring year after year is a chance for him to give back to his community and to impart wisdom from all his years of experience at Sikorsky.
“I volunteered because I thought it was a great program and a wonderful opportunity to share my knowledge with the kids,” Levinsky said. “When young people are interning it’s good to help them make the best impression, it’s important to share those life skills with them that will enable them thrive in the workplace.”
At Sikorsky, the focus on bringing out youth’s skills is present throughout most intern-mentor relationships.
“Them teaching you these life lessons and work ethic, like being on time—it’s more important than you realize.” said Michael Forleo, a second-year hydraulic intern. “Operating in a professional work environment isn’t something that they teach you in schools. It’s nice that our mentors take the time to not only show us how to use equipment and to do our jobs, but also the focus on little things that really make you stand out at work.”
The emphasis on good mentoring is one that stands out as the best aspect of the Sikorsky Teamster Youth Apprenticeship program. For Ashley Slaybaugh, Labor Relations Manager at Sikorsky, her favorite aspect is “seeing people go through the program, come back as staff and then sign up to become a mentor the next year. It’s great to see someone’s story come full circle and give back to the program.”
Management at Sikorsky continue to see how well this apprenticeship program is serving the company, its workforce and the community at large.
“Our leadership has taken a proactive stance on talent,” Slaybaugh said. “Industry wide, we see that manufacturing talent in the U.S. is really what we want to focus on, and continuing to staff our facility in Connecticut, and this program is such a great way to do that, a way to get people on the ground and really show them what a career in manufacturing can look like. Local 1150 has taken this and run with it.”
Comprehensive youth apprenticeship programs are a growing trend in the world of workforce development. For Workplace Now, the local Workforce Investment Board, Sikorsky and the Teamsters have really figured out how to produce a quality program.
“We’re not just about jobs, we’re creators of opportunity and focused on growing the middle class in Connecticut,” said Joe Carbonne, president of the local Workforce Investment Board. “This is a community effort, a great company, great union, these kids go on to have career, that’s where this program makes a huge difference.”
Sikorsky Propels Manufacturing Careers into the Future
Another benefit of the Sikorsky Teamster Youth Apprenticeship is that it’s giving a renewed look at the manufacturing industry in Connecticut—and nationally.
What has looked like a decline in the United States’ manufacturing sector is counterbalanced by the work that Local 1150 and Sikorsky are doing.
“A few years ago, Connecticut had a moment where the thought was that there was no future for manufacturing and people really started to believe it. This program and its success is quite compelling that Connecticut’s future in manufacturing is bright,” Carbonne said.
The record of achievement that this apprenticeship program has had for many years now proves the theory that manufacturing is alive and well, and that leads to a growing number of good, union jobs.
“It’s a community effort,” Carbonne said. “It takes a willing company, stellar volunteers, people from the union and money from various sources to make it happen. The level of cooperation between Sikorsky and the Teamsters is tremendous. They undertake projects that are good for the community and for the future of its workforce.”
Reclaiming the narrative of what a career in manufacturing can look like is a high priority for Local 1150 and Sikorsky.
“When people think of manufacturing they think of ‘Oliver Twist,’” said Dennis Yaremich, a Safety Steward and the Career Pathways Program coordinator. “People don’t realize how clean and safe manufacturing jobs are today, that you can really make a career out of it.”
Labor History Influences Teens
Yaremich has had a lot of involvement with the Career Pathways Program. He was one of the first participants after the program’s inception. Year after year, Yaremich had returned as a mentor and is now in charge of running the Career Pathways Program that gave him his start with the Teamsters and Sikorsky.
“I didn’t know much about manufacturing, or unions, when I first applied after my senior year in high school. All I knew was that the Teamsters came to talk about what it takes to be successful and that this program gave you a chance to earn some good wages over the summer,” Yaremich said. “It wasn’t until I was accepted into the program and participated in the labor history aspect that I really learned what a union is, and all their contributions they have made for working men and women, and that I could have a career with Sikorsky. I’ve been here ever since.”
The importance of labor history is one that Yaremich stresses during the program.
“Not many teenagers get to say that they’re members of a union. It’s important that we show these students at a young age the importance of unions and that good union jobs are alive and well at Sikorsky,” Yaremich said.
Local 1150 and Sikorsky have struck a rare balance, where both parties maximize their interdependence.
The future of manufacturing and union jobs that grow the middle class and provide opportunity are directly tied together. The Career Pathways Program is an investment in the future of the union and the workforce.
As Local 1150 and Sikorsky continue to break ground in the realm of youth workforce development, unions and companies across different sectors have a blueprint for success. Manufacturing and union jobs in the United States have a chance at resurgence with Teamsters at the helm.