Technical Career Path 2.0

Tampa Armature Works, Inc., founded in 1921 to serve the phosphate industry, is in the business of making sure you have electricity.

However, recruiters in this highly technical field are facing the same harsh realities brought about by the mass exodus of retiring baby boomers as in many other fields.

“People don’t realize that if we don’t fill these technical jobs, the electro/mechanical companies like ours may not have the capability of repairing electric motors for our customers,” says Ellen Donegan, the company’s recruiting specialist.

The company’s service technicians assist any company that has an industrial motor (i.e., the phosphate industry, utility companies, servicing motors for plant shutdowns, municipalities, repairing pumps, blowers, and compressors, and selling and repairing residential and commercial generators).

“We are in the same position as any of the utility companies. If they have an electric motor that has to conduct electricity, they have to have someone come fix it — and that is one of the largest parts of our business. If lightening strikes and that motor goes down, they call our company to repair their motors,” she says.

The company now employs 624 employees in 15 locations throughout Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

The company says it may expand, but its hunt for quality workers is stalled because “we have folks who have been here 40 or 50 years. It seems people are not encouraged to pursue these types of jobs anymore; the focus seems to be on other career paths,” says Donegan.

From Baby Boomers to Military Members

To combat staffing shortages and train younger workers, the company has found some relief from retired workers who are returning on a part-time basis.

“When they retire, we ask them whether they would consider coming back part time or on a contract basis,” she says.

Donegan says she has also hired “quite a bit” directly from online postings that are being read by the American military stationed in the Middle East.

“A lot of my generator technicians we have hired are ex-military folks or have worked as contractors for the military in the Middle East and want to come home,” she says.

“I get many emails from people in the Middle East who have found our Internet ads. I had one candidate come home from the Middle East on a Monday, he interviewed with us on Tuesday, and started the next Monday.”

This particular worker — who ultimately was hired as a generator field service technician in Florida — had found the listing while overseas, from an Internet posting on a job board, and contacted Tampa Armature Works before his arrival home.

“It would be nice having more people coming in to apply for our positions with the technical skill sets we require, but that is not happening as much as we would like,” says Donegan.

Instead, the company uses staffing agencies and placement companies, an employee referral program, job fairs at technical schools and universities, and military job fairs and conferences. It also places job postings on the company’s website, other online job boards, online and print trade publications, and workforce job centers.

Apprentice Program: You’re Hired!

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But overall, Tampa Armature Works is finding that the younger generation does not know the opportunities present in these technical career paths.

The job of filling these positions — such as electric motor mechanics and field service technicians — is made harder because many trade schools are not teaching the curriculums they have done in the past, such as manual machining.

To help combat this lack of hands-on experience, Tampa Armature Works started an apprenticeship program last year, after conducting in-depth research on the program.

“These are not every-day positions, so we decided we had to do this to find people fast,” Donegan explains.

The company has a training manager who oversees the program in various locations. The recruiting specialists contact technical schools and inquire about recent graduates who are seeking hands-on skills.

The apprentices arrive for an intensive six- to eight-month training program, complete with two hours a day of classroom time and six hours a day of job shadowing in the shop.

The apprentices are trained in electrical theory and mathematics.

“We cover the bases so they become a more well-rounded employee and understand what they are doing. We do a celebration with a certificate when they complete the apprenticeship,” she says.

“These folks have to be interested in working on motors and working with their hands. These are individuals who want to learn a trade and want to learn electrical theory. To be successful, they should be mechanically inclined,” she explains.

Some of the “boomerang” older workers also help out by offering their skills in the apprenticeship program.

“We have had some fall off the program because they weren’t interested or couldn’t do the work,” she says, adding that letting them do hands-on work is the best way for new employees to learn.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.


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