Tool, Die & Gage Apprentices Learning Skills to Pursue a New Career

Two Middletown employees and two East Hartford employees are halfway through a Tool, Die & Gage Apprenticeship Program that will prepare them for a new career direction at Pratt & Whitney.

Ron Pirtel, Joe Swetz, Driton Ahmetovic and Adam Brodeur began their Pratt & Whitney training, in conjunction with Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, in November 2015 and are scheduled to graduate in September. The program consists of academic classes given by Pratt & Whitney experts and Asnuntuck instructors, as well as more than 2,000 hours of on-the-job, hands-on mentored training in both Middletown and East Hartford tool rooms given by senior employees with advanced skills.

The group completed its final phase of academic instruction after recently building belt sanders from scratch as their "capstone" project, during which they designed, developed, procured material, manufactured, assembled and tested their creations.

"The apprenticeship program allows employees to learn high-level skills in an area new to them that are transferrable across the organization," said Don Keener, apprenticeship program coordinator in the Employee Training Center at the Middletown facility. Once participants complete the apprenticeship training, the company presents them with new job opportunities for which they're now qualified.

Keener and Cindy Cook, union apprenticeship coordinator, District 26, currently oversee three apprenticeship programs in East Hartford and Middletown, including one for Quality Assurance technicians and another for Electronics Systems Service (machine repair) along with the Tool, Die & Gage apprenticeship.

Keener said that for the recently completed capstone project, apprentices chose the project to work on collectively after discussions with the Asnuntuck instructor, taking into consideration time constraints, cost, materials and tooling. The project is all the more difficult as participants are given only two weeks to complete the project from the time they decide what to build.

"We began by throwing around a few ideas and decided on producing a belt sander, in part because we could bring it home at the end and make use of it," Brodeur said. "It turned out pretty impressive. We definitely believe it's better than what you can find in any store as it's large, made out of a combination of aluminum and steel, and no plastic was used. We did a lot of research on the Internet and on belt sanders at the school and improved upon what we saw."

The group produced five sanders – one for each of them to take home and one which is on display at Asnuntuck, where they were produced.

All four apprentices are glad to be taking part in the program and looking forward to the next stage of their careers.

"It's amazing to see now how little you knew about the field at the beginning or even about what you need to know to be skilled in this area," Ahmetovic said.

"I looked upon this apprenticeship to advance my skills in a new area," Swetz added. "This is the type of work that you can spend a career learning and improving upon your skills. It's a continuous process. The apprenticeship coursework gives us a good foundation and each tool room assignment and mentor we're assigned to contributes to our education."

When asked if the four knew each other before their participation in the program, they all said no. But, they added, they now consider themselves a well-rounded team.

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