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A Year on the Job: Catching up With our Apprentices

Setting the foundation for the next wave of skilled workers at CSL Behring’s leading-edge site in Kankakee, Illinois.

CSL Behring Kankakee apprentice Jammie Shell
Second-year maintenance apprentice Jammie Shell at work at CSL Behring’s world-class manufacturing facility in Kankakee, Illinois.

“It started like a disaster,” second-year maintenance apprentice  Jammie Shell remembers. “I had a hard time staying focused and setting a study pattern.” 

Nowadays, with one year of the apprenticeship program in the rear-view mirror, he has it figured out. Shell tapped into his MMA (mixed martial arts) training, where you have a short amount of time to figure it out -- or else.

“It’s all about balance,” Shell emphasizes.  

Shell’s fellow apprentice, Chris Gottschall, reflects that his experience as an apprentice has been life changing.  

“I really enjoy what I’m doing.  I get to see new things every day. Work at CSL Behring is a great opportunity to apply what I learn in the classroom on the job.  The workplace mentors have been fantastic,” said Gottschall.

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In early 2018, CSL Behring, the world’s fifth largest biotechnology company, and Kankakee Community College collaborated to develop a program, certified by the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides a roadmap for filling skilled maintenance technician positions at CSL Behring’s leading-edge manufacturing facility in Kankakee, Illinois. 

These “middle-skill” jobs, as they are known, require education beyond high school, but not a four-year degree.  A National Skills Coalition analysis of long-term projections from state labor/employment agencies, projects the demand for middle-skill jobs in Illinois will remain strong through 2024.  In Kankakee, the need continues due to facility expansion and retirements.  The apprenticeship program will help ensure a pipeline of talent is ready for those positions.

Six-year CSL Behring employee and new apprentice, Brandon O’Connor, entered the program from a different background. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications/media studies from Northern Illinois University.  When asked how going to college now is different from the first go-round, he replied, “It’s so much better now.  I see what happens at the end of the road. I can see clearly how what I’m doing applies to the ultimate goal.”

Apprentices work at the CSL Behring facility three days per week in hands-on maintenance positions.  Two days per week, they are students in the Kankakee Community College Industrial Electrical Technology program. At the end of their three-year apprenticeship, the workers will earn an Associate in Applied Science degree.

“This program gives people the ability to reach goals—to integrate school and work,” notes O’Connor.  “It helps a lot with work-life-school balance and helps the workforce know there are options for development.”

Maintenance manager, Mike Memenga, shared that the first year of the program has exceeded expectations and, therefore, the company will continue to launch new apprentices every year in the department to help meet staffing needs. 

Memenga notes, “As someone who worked full time while completing my college degree, I understand the work-life-school balance can be difficult to manage.  The way this program is set up helps with that.”  

An additional benefit is being able to take the knowledge attained through coursework and put it to use in real on-the-job scenarios with their CSL Behring mentors.

Chris Gotschall
Chris Gottschall

Both Shell and Gottschall note that, in addition to support in the workplace, family support has been paramount to their success.  

Shell adds, “I dropped out of college the first time.  I played football, had scholarships, and made some poor decisions. I’m really grateful for this opportunity.  Now, my daughter and I do our homework together.  I’m proud to be setting a good example for my daughters.”