There were no caps and gowns, no ceremonial walk to “Pomp and Circumstance” but there was plenty of celebrating for the first cohort of the apprenticeship program at CSL Behring.
“It feels amazing,” said apprenticeship graduate Chris Gottschall. He and three other CSL Behring employees in Kankakee, Illinois, finished the three-year program, which combined three days of work in maintenance at the manufacturing facility with two days of instruction through Kankakee Community College’s Industrial Electrical Technology program.
Now the graduates have Associate in Applied Science degrees and have been promoted to first class maintenance mechanics.
Senior Manager of Maintenance Services (and former maintenance mechanic), Dave Mollema, recognized the graduates, “Congratulations to our first group of maintenance apprentices on receiving their degree and achieving classification as 1st Class Maintenance Mechanics. The skills acquired through the program allow them and CSL to continue to deliver on our promise to our patients by supporting the End-to-End strategic imperatives of safety, quality, reliability and innovation. I am proud to have them as full-time members of the Maintenance Team.”
Apprentice program graduate Pete Dato called the program his “golden ticket.” Both he and Gottschall say the program has them considering more education to increase their technical skills.
“It gives me the ability to expand and continue my education,” Dato said.
The apprentice program sprang out of a need for skilled maintenance technicians at the Kankakee facility, which makes plasma-derived medicines for people who have rare and serious diseases. In early 2018, CSL Behring, the world’s third 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 those skilled jobs.
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.
The group of four were able to graduate on time, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“Kankakee Community College was great,” said Gottschall. “They quickly adapted the curriculum to getting creative with remote learning.”
Dato agreed, saying instructors found a way to adjust and continue the courses remotely. They provided live-stream demonstrations on equipment that CSL Behring had on hand for use in the program.
“It was tougher to do online, but we persevered,” he said.
“Learning on our own equipment was invaluable,” said Gottschall.
The apprentices were able to take knowledge they learned in class and put it to use in real, on-the-job scenarios with their CSL Behring mentors. Support from mentors was integral to their success, Gottschall and Dato said.
Would the graduates recommend the apprentice program to others?
“Do it – absolutely,” Dato said. “Don’t wait. It’s hard, but worth it.”