Massachusetts is the first state in the United States to have a registered apprenticeship program for mechanical production worker training in rail car manufacturing. The Registered Apprenticeship Program for mechanical assemblers at CRRC, with Hampden County Workforce Board as the sponsor, is approved by the state Division of Apprentice Standards and provides career opportunities for unemployed and underemployed residents to work, be paid and be trained to develop professional technical skills resulting in a long-term career pathway in manufacturing.
CRRC MA, the workforce board and Sheet Metal Workers Local 63 are lead partners in the registered apprenticeship program and have fostered a unique partnership to provide CRRC MA the entry-level employees and training needed to operationalize its rail car assembly operation. The power of this partnership proved to be essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July, with the pandemic driving companies to embrace partial virtual recruitment and hiring practices, the partnership moved strategically to respond to CRRC’s need to hire up to 100 new assemblers by December.
The workforce board, working through the MassHire Career Centers in Springfield, Holyoke and Greenfield, coordinated the development and implementation of a series of virtual job fairs that supported CRRC’s shift to virtual hiring platforms and allowed both CRRC and job seekers the opportunity to find each other in “virtual space.”
CRRC pivoted its human resources practices to support the MassHire systems virtual outreach and recruitment platforms allowing for increased access to the CRRC virtual “Hire Room” for interested job seekers, many of whom had been permanently separated from their current employment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result of this unique partnership and its ability to collaboratively pivot practices to respond to this surge in demand, 82 production employees were hired, including 40 electrical and 42 mechanical workers over the last five months of 2020. These jobs are career opportunities complete with a competitive wage and benefit package and allowed CRRC to respond to its production needs, while putting unemployed individuals back to work.
Today, CRRC MA’s current workforce comprises 376 employees. The manufacturing facility in Springfield employs 293 employees, including 212 union production employees.
Immediately upon being hired by CRRC, the newly hired mechanical assemblers and registered apprentices immediately transitioned to a 150-hour technical instruction program developed jointly by CRRC and Sheet Metal Workers Local 63 that prepared the new employees with the technical skills to perform the required assembly tasks and processes on the CRRC factory floor.
This unique partnership emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in a more strategic position to respond to surges in future demand as CRRC ramps up production for the MBTA’s Orange and Red lines and begins production for the Los Angeles Metro and Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority transit systems.
Lydia M. Rivera is director of public relations for CRRC MA Corp. David M. Cruise is president and CEO of the Mass Hire Hampden County Workforce Board. To learn more about CRRC MA, go online to crrcma.com; to learn more about the workforce board, go online to masshirehcwb.com.