As a senior in the Bluffton High School band, Mike Meyer attended the GROB Bluffton groundbreaking ceremony where he first learned of the apprenticeship program. Meyer aspired to go into engineering and was drawn into the program by the opportunity to receive a company-paid Associate’s degree. Meyer joined GROB as an apprentice in the inaugural apprenticeship class of 1990 and is currently a Project Leader in our Mechanical Engineering department.
The program looked very different in 1990 than it does in 2020. Meyer recalls working in an airplane hangar on GROB’s property with five other apprentices and a German instructor while the first part of the plant was still being built. In the beginning, they were the only employees in the plant so much of their work was helping to build the program, doing work such as receiving tools and setting machines. The apprenticeship saw several other instructors before Mike Hawk took over as the apprenticeship instructor in 2003. Hawk came from a machining background and has trained many of the apprentices who have come through the program. Hawk is responsible for teaching new apprentices machining fundamentals, safe work habits, and the proper way to operate machine tools.
Fast forward to 2020 and GROB has now hired and trained over 380 apprentices in its 30-year history. The program has gained momentum in recent years with hiring classes as large as 40 apprentices and having five staff supporting the program. The apprenticeship program is constantly working to improve and find new ways to give our apprentices valuable experiences. The program today features even more technical training and soft skills to prepare apprentices for becoming both highly-skilled technicians and well-rounded employees. We also have added more formal electrical training that teaches apprentices to read electrical diagrams, wire control cabinets, troubleshoot machine faults, and program PLCs.
For two of our apprenticeship staff members, their GROB journey has come full circle as they both began their careers here as an apprentice. Mark Reed (class of 1992) and Evan Steiner (class of 2013) joined the apprenticeship department in 2018 as Supervisor and Electrical Instructor respectively. Both of them are already starting to see the long-term results of training people and take pride in being a part of the apprentices’ technical and personal growth.
Our apprentices can be found across the company making an impact from our Machine Shop, Panel Shop, Sub-Assembly, Debug, Final Assembly, Engineering, Marketing, and Sales & Proposals. Along with Meyer, Reed, and Steiner, other past apprentices have transitioned into working outside of the more traditional technician roles that apprentices are trained for. Mike Hough (class of 2016) recently moved from our Universal department into Marketing as a Technical Content Creator, a role that didn’t exist at GROB previously. This goes to show how versatile our apprentices are and the opportunities that can arise at any time.
Our company has invested greatly in our apprenticeship program throughout its history. That investment has proven to be worth it as we continue to build our future workforce and leaders with a focus on high-quality workmanship and training that matches the growing needs of our products and customers. Almost 40% of our current workforce in Bluffton is made up of past and current apprentices and several past apprentices have gone on to become leaders within our company. We currently have one C-level, two Managers, 10 Supervisors, and 11 Foreman across various departments that are all past apprentices.
“The people of GROB are really the best part. Starting with local people in Bluffton and the surrounding areas in Ohio, then all of the international people we get a chance to work with, for me this is far and away the best part of GROB,” says Meyer. The fact that GROB invests so much in our people is why we continue to find success both in our apprenticeship program and as a company.