Husqvarna Honors First Graduates of Apprenticeship Program Through OCtech
Christopher Conrad and Saul Rickenbacker have become the first individuals to complete Husqvarna’s tool and die maker apprenticeship program at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
“I know it’s been a long, hard road for them, working and going to school at the same time,” said Ken Carroll, tool and die supervisor at Husqvarna. “They put a lot of effort into it, and now, we depend on them. They’ve got that foundation, and we’re going to rely on them to train future apprentices. All that they’ve learned, they will be passing on. These guys are assets to us. They are our future.”
Conrad and Rickenbacker received an associate degree in Machine Tool Technology in May and are currently enrolled in OCtech’s Engineering Design Technology program working toward a second associate degree. They received their official Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship from the United States Department of Labor last month during a luncheon at Husqvarna.
Rickenbacker, who has worked at Husqvarna for more than 30 years, said he had been looking for a way to go back to school for a while.
“Husqvarna’s been good to me. It helped me put my kids through college,” he said. “I was the only person in my house who didn’t have a degree. This program came along and I thought, ‘This is my chance.’ I never thought I would get a degree at almost 50 years old, and now, I’m about to get two degrees. You’d be amazed at how many people stop me at work and want to know how they can do what we did.”
Conrad said when they took Introduction to CAD – computer aided design – in the spring, they knew they wanted to go one step further and earn their EDT degree, as well.
“This has been life-changing for me and my family,” he said. “I have turned a lot of young people on to it. I’m always promoting OCtech. It’s a working person’s best friend. They really go out of their way to accommodate you.”
Sandra Moore, dean of corporate training and economic development at the college, said OCtech has the ability to customize training to meet local industry needs. Husqvarna currently has four registered apprenticeships with OCtech – electrician, electro-mechanical technician, MIG welder, and tool and die maker.
“Chris and Saul went from showing up for a job to earning a degree. It gave them an opportunity to master what they were already doing,” Moore said. “Then they saw a career path and took another program to complement the one they had already finished. There’s nothing they can’t do at this point.”
Moore said the relationship the college has with Husqvarna makes it easy for apprentices to work and go to school.
“The hardest issue to overcome with an apprenticeship is scheduling classes around work,” she said. “As the semesters rolled around, we would talk with the supervisors, arrange the schedule, and Chris and Saul stuck with it. This is not only a testimonial of their hard work, but it’s a testimonial for Husqvarna in investment – from supervision that understands the process to a company that really cares about its employees.”
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job has been recruiting and working with enthusiastic apprentices,” Husqvarna Human Resources Manager Tiffany Jules Glenn said. “Working with OCtech makes the process so much easier for me and the apprentices. I am proud of Saul and Chris and encourage others to take advantage of the program.”
Robert Crenshaw, area director for ReadySC and apprenticeship consultant for Apprenticeship Carolina, applauded the company’s efforts to train its employees and help them excel.
“You’re growing your workforce, and you’re growing them the way they need to be grown,” Crenshaw said. “This is the way you keep your people motivated, educated and dedicated. This is how you make yourself successful. You’ve cracked the code.”
Conrad said when he first started in the tool and die shop, he was shocked by all there was to it.
“I just couldn’t believe the different things you had to know. It’s a lot,” he said. “But we had good teachers, and a lot of knowledge and experience was passed on to us. I’m glad that I was chosen to do the apprenticeship program. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. You’ve got to want to do it.”
Rickenbacker said their mentors at Husqvarna helped them be successful apprentices.
“(Former tool and die supervisor) Jay Shubrier helped us out a lot, setting the foundation for our school schedule,” he said. “Working and going to school was hectic, but I’ve been here a long time and I tell my coworkers that if I can do it, I know they can do it.”
Husqvarna General Manager Joseph Soldano applauded Conrad and Rickenbacker for their achievement.
“Tool and die makers are a dying breed. It’s a lost art,” he said. “There’s some magic that goes on with what you guys do every day. You’re making stuff happen that not just anybody can do. We’re excited about being a part of this apprenticeship program and supporting it because it’s a win for everybody.”
Apprentices gain valuable job-related education and supervised on-the-job training, which often translates into job advancement and better pay. They may also be eligible for tuition reimbursement through their employer.
Businesses that register for apprenticeships are eligible for federal and state tax credits.
In addition to Husqvarna, OCtech has registered apprenticeships with Continental Tire, GKN Aerospace and Koyo.
To learn more, call Sandra Moore at 803.535.1237.