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Gov. Wolf praises Phoenix Contact apprenticeship program: 'This is truly amazing'

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/9/19

Gov. Tom Wolf visited and toured the Phoenix Contact plant on Fulling Mill Road in Lower Swatara Township on Tuesday, citing the company’s apprenticeship programs as an example of what can be …

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Gov. Wolf praises Phoenix Contact apprenticeship program: 'This is truly amazing'

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Gov. Tom Wolf visited and toured the Phoenix Contact plant on Fulling Mill Road in Lower Swatara Township on July 9, citing the company’s apprenticeship programs as an example of what can be achieved statewide through PAsmart, the governor’s initiative to expand apprenticeships and other job training opportunities.

“This is the future of our economy,” Wolf said following a tour of the company’s manufacturing high-tech facility. “This is truly amazing, and it’s amazing to see what the future is going to be.”

Phoenix Contact’s “Mechatronics” apprenticeship program began in 2011 and was the first program of its kind to be approved by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in April 2013, according to the company.

Representing a combination of mechanical and electronics skills, the Mechatronics program lasts four years and covers 8,000 hours.

Phoenix Contact has partnered with Harrisburg Area Community College to provide an associate in applied science degree in Mechatronics — free of charge — to apprentices enrolled in the program.

The Mechatronics apprenticeship program has seven graduates, and three apprentices who are enrolled, Phoenix Contact said.

In 2014, Phoenix Contact launched its Industrial Maintenance Repairer Apprenticeship program. Trainees learn the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain and support the multi-level operations and structure of the facility.

It is a four-year, 8,000-hour program. Those enrolled also qualify for the associate degree in applied science in Mechatronics free of charge from HACC.

Phoenix Contact since 2006 has also offered an apprenticeship in its sales and technology track. After completing an 8-month core experience, apprentices can move into one of several positions in sales, marketing, engineering, business system analysis, and information technology.

Wolf noted how the Phoenix Contact apprenticeship model is an example of people being paid while they learn, instead of being saddled with large amounts of student debt.

“What you’ve shown is that this stuff actually works,” the governor said.

Wolf launched the PAsmart initiative in 2018 and has secured a $10 million increase to $40 million for the program this year. PAsmart provides $20 million for science and technology education, $10 million for apprenticeships and job training and, new this year, an additional $10 million for career and technical education.

“PAsmart is investing in training people to have the skills and experience that growing businesses need to thrive,” Wolf said. “By closing the training gap, we can ensure workers can compete for good, well-paying jobs and every employer can find the talented people it needs to succeed and grow our economy.”

“Pennsylvania businesses are hiring, but they can’t find enough skilled workers for all of the open jobs,” Wolf added. “PAsmart recognizes that a four-year college isn’t for everyone, but people need the job training that apprenticeships and career and technical education provide.”

Phoenix Contact is a German-owned company, with its U.S. headquarters based at the plant on Fulling Mill Road.

About 600 employees work at the plant in Lower Swatara Township, and another 200 work throughout the United States for Phoenix Contact USA, mostly in sales, Phoenix Contact USA President Jack Nehlig told Wolf.

At its simplest, Phoenix Contact makes equipment that enables machines that make all manner of products to operate, Nehlig explained to the governor.

“Imagine a factory anywhere — it could be Hershey Foods or Harley-Davidson. Inside that factory are pieces of equipment,” Nehlig said. “We make all the electrical products that go in the machines that make the machines do what they need to do. That industry is called industrial automation and control.”

About 70 to 80 percent of the customers of Phoenix Contact are the companies that build the machines that make things in factories, Nehlig said.

Phoenix Contact also works with the companies themselves that use the equipment, such as Hershey Foods, when it comes time to replace or upgrade the machines, Nehlig said.

Phoenix Contact sells primarily through industrial distributors, although the company has its own sales force.

Wolf noted that the number of machine tool manufacturers is “a good indication of how vibrant” an economy is.

“Germany has a lot, the U.S. has not very many. We used to have a lot. Hopefully we have started to recover,” Wolf said.

“It is starting to recover,” Nehlig told Wolf. He told the governor he hopes this trend will continue, thanks to “your agenda and many other good governors’ agendas” aimed at supporting manufacturing.