Apprenticeship Program Meets Business, Employee and Customer Needs

Apprenticeship Program Meets Business, Employee and Customer Needs Main Photo

2 Nov 2022

News, Workforce Stories

Innovize is a specialized medical device manufacturer in operation in Vadnais Heights for more than 60 years. It focuses on medical device contract manufacturing for the largest medical device companies in the world and is ISO 13485 Certified, GMP-Compliant and ISO9001 Certified. At first glance, such an established company should have a considerable pool of skilled individuals seeking to work in their manufacturing facility. Yet, Innovize found hiring operators to be an increasingly difficult proposition.

“As our products and processes grew, we have struggled to find individuals with the training or experience necessary to run our unique processes,” said Rick Pratt, Innovize’s Senior Manufacturing Manager. “We had to find a way to train individuals for our specific positions.”

Need for skilled employees

Innovize considered an apprenticeship program in 2018 to help fill that need but, like many other companies, was unsure where to begin.

“We are different from many other manufacturers because we utilize our equipment to make more than one product,” said Pratt. “There is no school or external training program to teach potential employees how to use our equipment.”

The company turned to the State of Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry for guidance, which they found through ApprenticeshipMN, a program to promote, facilitate and develop quality registered apprenticeship programs that recruit, train and retain a highly skilled and diverse workforce.

“It was quite easy to adopt by just plugging in our information,” said Pratt. “Their assistance  reduced our hesitancy to start.”

Today, Innovize’s apprenticeship program requires associates to complete approximately 2,000 hours of training throughout a paid, 40-hour-per-week schedule. Topics covered include specific operating procedures, safety requirements and quality procedures, with about 80% of the training occurring on the job. Associates take six months to two years to complete the training, at which time they are ready to move into permanent operator roles. Seven associates have completed the program and moved on to permanent positions. Several are still in the program and the company is eager to add four to six more for 2023. The number of apprentices it seeks is based on several factors, like the number of retiring associates, forecasted revenue increases or new products or complex projects in its pipeline.

Individual advantages

Associates are paid an hourly wage during their program, with increases for each phase of the program they complete. 

“We know individuals can spend a lot of money to go to school or learn a trade, but our program allows an individual to earn a good wage while learning the skills needed for a career with a ton of upside,” said Pratt. “And all without going into the debt often seen with a college education today.”

The program offers more than just manufacturing training, said Pratt, because Innovize emphasizes developing a healthy culture for its employees.

“At Innovize, we create products that improve people’s lives worldwide,” said Pratt. “But we also want to impact the lives of our employees every day in our workplace.”

Although most of the apprentices stay with Innovize, a few that have left to work elsewhere came back to Innovize because they found work elsewhere was not challenging or the culture was not quite the same, said Pratt.

“We work hard to foster a close-knit, caring culture where each individual is part of a team working together,” he said.

The apprenticeship program is incorporated into the company’s recognition system in which associates can recognize the hard work of each other. Those identified through the system collect points for their actions that they can cash in for gift cards or various items.

Enlightening experience

Beyond delivering an opportunity to train prospective employees, the apprenticeship program showed Innovize how to open up the diversity of individuals it sought. The company’s recruits typically either had a solid mechanical background or were interested in manufacturing. But the current crop of apprentices has a much more varied background.

“We were extremely enlightened to see the individuals who showed a capability for the skill necessary to operate in our processes,” said Pratt. “We have found persons who are naturally observant, curious and have a good memory can quickly gain the skills needed to be successful here.”

While Innovize has always had a much better attrition rate than the average medical device manufacturing industry, the COVID-19 pandemic did cause some concern for it. But the company is situated well to face the future with the apprenticeship program, said Pratt.

“The program can help ensure our ability to supply these much-needed products that people need every day to improve their lives,” he said. “We feel confident because of our trained, quality in-house individuals.”