KBA launches new unique apprenticeship programs in U.S.

KBA USA’s Ericka Luneau.

In light of the tight labour market and the acute need for qualified candidates to join the printing industry, Koenig & Bauer (KBA U.S.) has invested in its future (and the future of the printing industry) by developing new and unique apprenticeship programs to fill its technical positions. For the past two years, the OEM’s Dallas-Texas-based division has been working in collaboration with the Training and Human Resources Departments at its factory in Germany, along with Texas State Technical College (TSTC), to establish a unique Technician Apprenticeship Program to recruit qualified students. Its purpose is to attract and develop new technical talent for the printing industry. “When we speak to college students, we emphasize that we’re offering a long-term fulfilling career, not simply a job,” said Ericka Luneau, Koenig & Bauer (U.S.) Human Resource Director. “This is a huge unique opportunity that they might have never considered before. We interviewed a lot of candidates looking for the passion and excitement to join our industry. We’re pleased to announce that our first applicants have been chosen – two extremely competent women who are currently participating in our programs.”

In mid-Janaury of 2019, both Kaitlin Sullivan, a recent TSTC graduate with a A.S. Degree in Wind Energy Technology (WET), joined KBA as an Electrician Apprentice. At the same time, Amanda Beltran joined the company’s Apprenticeship Program in its Machine Shop as a new Machinist Apprentice. She graduated with an A.S. in Mechatronics Technology – a complex interdisciplinary field that combines the study of mechanics, electronics, automation and computers. Both women took different educational paths to eventually choose a career at KBA USA. After being introduced to Koenig & Bauer at a campus career fair, both graduates changed their job trajectories and became excited about the print industry and working on large, complex printing presses. “When we visited Amanda and Kaitlin’s classrooms, it opened up their eyes to a new industry and changed their career course,” Luneau added. “Our program had all of the elements that they desired.”

Kaitlin Sullivan (left) joined KBA U.S. as an Electrician Apprentice, while Amanda Beltran entered the apprenticeship program in its machine shop as a new Machinist Apprentice.

Sullivan is based in Dallas and reports to a regional service manager. She’ll work in the field with mentors for the next few months until she moves to Germany. Beltran will be based in the Dallas machine shop, but her training will also include some field work and specialized training in Germany. Since both women are the first in these particular apprenticeship programs, Koenig & Bauer U.S. is encouraging them to provide feedback on how the program can be improved. To be considered for the program, applicants are required to have a two-year related technical degree. The 18-month program encompasses field training with mentors in the U.S., classes at the German Apprenticeship School located at KBA’s Radebeul factory near Dresden, German, language classes, work experience in its assembly hall at the factory, and specialized training in its training center there. Apprentices are paid a salary and given a housing and transportation allowance while living in Germany. They’ll live and train in Germany for a period up to one year with intermittent field training in the U.S. Upon completion of the program, an apprentice will resume a service technician position in the field in the U.S. (usually near an airport due to the necessary extensive travel).

After many visits with faculty and an in-depth evaluation of its technical programs, Koenig & Bauer (U.S.) chose to partner with Texas State Technical College (TSTC) to recruit qualified candidates for its Apprenticeship Program. Luneau said that they liked the TSTC model as it’s a nice blend of theory and hands-on education – including extensive safety training. Koenig & Bauer (U.S.) also appreciated the opportunity to visit students in the classroom with a KBA team that included: Chris Travis, Director of Technology, who provided information on opportunities in print; current electricians and mechanical engineers who answered questions about technical aspects; and Ericka Luneau, who discussed salary and benefits. Although Koenig & Bauer (U.S.) intends to add to the Apprenticeship Program year-after-year, it’s currently a limited program with two openings per year.

“The instructors at TSTC have been phenomenal,” said Luneau. “We’ve partnered with them to identify their ‘bright star’ students as they enter the school, not just their graduating class. We prefer to establish a relationship with them early on before they become enticed into a different industry.” Although the program is in its infancy stage, KBA (U.S.) is planning to extend and duplicate it across the country. “Our plan is to partner with other colleges, perhaps in the northeast or midwest, where we have large clusters of customers,” Luneau added. “Our President and CEO, Mark Hischar, is very supportive of the program and sees it as part of his vision for growth in the U.S. He went to Germany to explain the program and gain its enthusiastic support. Our entire organization backs it as well.”

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.