Project Opportunity: Apprenticeships that Open the Door to an Enhanced Career

Nestlé’s practical training develops a long-term skilled workforce

“We started by determining the need,” Joshua explains. As Supervisor of Factory Training at Nestlé’s Mt. Sterling production facility in Kentucky, Joshua oversees how the facility manages its apprenticeships program. “We have to first understand what our work will look like three years down the line — which of our employees will be retiring, which skills need to be filled so that we can continue to operate.”

This is where Nestlé’s Project Opportunity comes in. As workplaces change, technological skill gaps grow. For many working people, this means trying to find a new or first job in a market which requires knowledge beyond their former training. For companies, it means a workforce that is under-prepared for the challenges they face. Project Opportunity seeks to re-balance this equation, providing on-the-job training that develops talent from the ground up.

“This isn’t a typical four-year degree. It’s about building practical skills in a way that the apprentices can really use in their future careers,”
— Joshua, Mt. Sterling, KY.

The skill-gap challenge is very real, and it has huge implications both for the communities which rely on technical careers and for companies who need to prepare for the future. Buddy, Supervisor of Facilities Maintenance, has experienced this challenge first hand: “I’ve been in the factory for 14 years, and I’ve experienced times when we’ve been light on headcount because we can’t find people with the right skills to come and do the job.”

Betty, Maintenance Planner at Mt. Sterling, reports a similar workplace evolution: “I’ve been here for 9 years and the biggest change is the amount of automation — with the former equipment, we could bring in anyone with mechanical knowledge and they’d be able to do the work, but the new systems, while improved, also require a more complex set of skills.”

Skills development is at the heart of Project Opportunity apprenticeships in manufacturing facilities, where apprentices take part in a mixture of hands-on training and outside-educational study. Mt. Sterling partners with the local Maysville Technical College, where apprentices spend three half-days during their working week.

Practical learning is managed in-line with the educational curriculum — those overseeing the program like Betty work closely with college contacts, so practical on-the-job training can be tailored to make sure apprentices receive relevant practical demonstrations at the same time as learning theory in the classroom. The combination of classroom and hands-on learning builds a strong foundation of skills, which makes it an appealing program for those seeking a new career.

Apprentices are also encouraged to develop good relationships with their facility coaches and managers; regular check-ins and two-way feedback are a strong part of the culture. Apprentices in Mt. Sterling work with eight different facility coaches on rotation throughout their apprenticeship program, each coach hand-picked by the facility managers for their broad range of expertise. It’s a holistic approach to practical learning, and it’s proving popular.

“I don’t think anyone realized how much interest there would be in the apprenticeships,” Betty observes. “It was astounding how many people wanted to take part, and how much need there was for developing these skills.”

Kentucky is just one of many states where Project Opportunity is working with apprentices in this fashion. Over in Arkansas, Nestlé’s facility in the fast-growing Jonesboro area is competing with several other companies for local talent, and the local workforce does not yet have the skills to take on the work.

Eric, a Maintenance Mechanic Apprentice at Nestlé’s Jonesboro facility in Arkansas, sees the long-term value of participating in the program: “In this area, you work in agriculture or you work in a factory, and most places require two years of experience before you can even start your career. This opportunity with Nestlé is different. It’s a foot in the door, and I’ve invested three years in the program. For any industrial technician, three years of experience and training means a lot, I’m hoping to graduate being able to call myself the best-of-the-best.”

Graduation from the program doesn’t mean receiving a certificate and well-wishes on your way out the door. For Nestlé it’s all about developing and retaining that skilled workforce. It all comes back to preparing a workforce for the future, as Joshua explained, “we’re developing people from the inside, and we’re willing to recognize talent and promote from within — it will change the way the factory is maintained and our whole strategy of developing people and maintaining our workforce.”

Since the launch of Project Opportunity in 2015, Nestlé has been committed not only to hiring more apprentices and interns across their facilities in the U.S., but also to reaching 300,000 people annually through “readiness for work” activities like mock interviews and career path role models.

As the program continues beyond 2017, developing practical long-term skills for the future of the company and employees will remain a key focus for Nestlé. Our ambition to improve livelihoods and develop thriving communities starts with education and opportunity.

At Nestlé, we believe that communities cannot thrive if they cannot offer opportunities for career development.

This is why we are investing in Project Opportunity, a career acceleration initiative to help people of all ages gain work experience and strengthen their professional development skills in food and beverage manufacturing.

Part of Project Opportunity contributes to Nestlé’s Global Youth Initiative, helping people to develop skills and become more employable.

Related Stories: