Mike VandeMaele, CEO of Pro Services, doesn’t mince words: there is a crisis coming to the industrial manufacturing industry. There are 500k industrial maintenance technicians working in the country today and 77 percent of those individuals are age 45 or greater. And a major percentage is older than 60.
As these experienced workers retire in droves, manufacturing plants encounter a shallow talent pool to hire replacements. Manufacturing plants are vital to how the country runs, with many operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Downtime in plants increase if maintenance technician positions go unfilled and work is unperformed, which spurs economic disruptions.
VandeMaele isn’t only speaking about this looming crisis but actively working to resolve it. He created a Maintenance Mechanic Apprenticeship program, Pro U, to address the potential employee shortage.
“Maintenance technicians in our country, in my mind, were never properly trained and never treated as a professional like a skilled trades worker is,” said VandeMaele. “We created our own curriculum to teach a maintenance technician to be as qualified in that world as a skilled trades person is in theirs.”
The two-year program begins with 12 weeks of in-house classroom, laboratory and hands-on experience at the Pro Services training center in Portage, Michigan. Apprentices are then partnered with clients, located nationally, for on-the-job training. Upon completion, they receive their Maintenance Mechanic Journeyman Card.
Curriculum includes everything from maintenance safety measures to basic mechanics to first aid to machine shop turning operations and beyond. All the basics are covered so the program produces multi-crafted maintenance technicians. Apprentices also receive industry-leading benefits such as paid training, health insurance, vacation pay, relocation assistance and more.
“Everyone is looking for maintenance technicians, but we have to create them,” VandeMaele said.
Joe Raleigh, a former emergency medical technician, is a perfect example of Pro U creating a maintenance technician. Now a FMT liaison and training specialist for Pro Services, Raleigh’s motivation to apply to the program derived from a passion for working with his hands and fixing things.
“I had an old alarm clock radio in my room as a kid and it wasn’t very loud,” he said. “I took it apart and wired up this big speaker to try and make it much, much louder. That was my a-ha moment that I could make things.”
That childhood curiosity stuck with him and eventually led to him Pro Services after 15 years of service as a traveling emergency medical technician — a leap he said was easy.
“Humans are just interconnected systems,” he said. “Someone has a failure in one area, you figure out how to fix it. It’s the same in manufacturing. Troubleshooting when there’s a breakdown in one component to find the root cause is no different than figuring out what’s wrong with a human.”
Through the Pro U program’s education and training, Raleigh explored multiple avenues of maintenance, from welding to electrical work — all the while receiving pay and additional benefits to do so. Furthermore, his journey through the program showcases the potential for career advancement as he now finds himself in a leadership position helping implement preventative maintenance processes across the country.
“It’s a viable, awesome career with lots of opportunity,” he said. “It’s not just an alternative to college. You can pick your interest and take that to the end, where you are making six figures with a rewarding, fun job.”
While a maintenance technician’s role in a plant focuses on reactive upkeep, Pro U features a proactive approach on addressing a potential labor crisis in the industry. Whether a high school graduate who seeks an alternative to college or someone who desires a change in profession, the program provides the education, training and benefits required to begin a viable career path.
“A lot of people say, ‘wow I didn’t know something like this was available,’” said VandeMaele. “We’re happy to help anybody but we really want to help the entire country. Our goal is to grow to 1500 technicians in the next 10 years.”