Article by Beth Ann Miller for the Daily American in Somerset, Pennsylvania November 1, 2021
Three Somerset County tradesmen are advancing their machining skills as they learn to make some of the critical components that keep the U.S. Navy’s ships afloat and operating at standard speed.
Logan Miller, 23, of Meyersdale, Thomas Walters, 19, of Listie and Ethan Birth, 18, of Berlin, are participating in a new apprenticeship program at Global/SFC Valve, in Somerset, which manufactures standard valves and components used on U.S. Navy ships, including the U.S.S. Somerset.
Global/SFC Valve received approval from the state last year to start an apprenticeship program, company President Linda Heining said. On Oct. 15, the company was awarded a $21,203 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development’s Pre-Apprentice and Apprenticeship Grant Program.
The grant covers the costs involved for Global/SFC Valve to offer classroom and on-the-job training to these three apprentices, with coursework supplied by the National Tooling and Machining Association – University, aka NTMA-U.
Becoming a journeyman machinist
Each of the three men are in the first year of their training. Miller and Walters were hired by Global/SFC Valve in 2020 and started their training last year. Birth was hired in July of 2021 and started his training shortly thereafter.
The four-year NTMA-U program requires each apprentice to complete 568 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of machining time, said Sherry Abel, training facilitator at Global/SFC Valve.
“What makes this program very special is in three (more) years, these gentlemen will get their journeyman papers through the state of Pennsylvania,” she said. “It’s like a four-year (college) degree – and they’ll be machinists (level) 3 also. If they are successful through the program, every year the company increases their pay as well.”
An apprenticeship program has been a longtime goal for the company, Heining said. Former CEO and President Bob Kirst saw similar programs offered by other companies and said he wanted to create something there.
“It was always Bob’s dream to have an apprenticeship program, but unfortunately he passed away before it got to be implemented,” she said.
Learning the trade
Miller, Walters, and Birth all learned the basics of machining in high school, through the Somerset County Technology Center’s machine technology program. Walters and Birth also worked part-time at Global/SFC valve during high school, through a co-op program with the technology center.
“Being we got them from the (SCTC) program, they did have some basic skills coming in,” said Skip Bryner, Global/SFC Valve production manager. “So, you’re not starting at zero. They come in with good knowledge and a desire to learn.
“With what they learned there, they come in and they’re definitely going to be a lot faster coming up to speed. There’s improvement with all three of them and they’re working with somebody all the time to become more independent on their own.”
Learning while earning a paycheck
As apprentices, these three men have an opportunity to advance their education and ear their journeyman machinist papers while working fulltime and earning a paycheck, along with company benefits like health insurance coverage and a retirement savings plan.
“You can go to a university and get the same journeyman papers,” Birth said. “in fact, there are three schools in Pittsburgh that offer a fairly similar program and you get the same journeyman paper from the same institute. But the people that are going to those universities and getting that same degree, they don’t get the benefits, they don’t have the medical benefits for those four years, they don’t get the paycheck for those four years – and they have debt (when they graduate).
“Going into this apprenticeship, we’re getting paid, we don’t have any debt, we have full medical benefits and we’re getting retirement benefits.”
Investing in their workforce
Heining said the apprenticeship program also enables Global/SFC Valve to invest in its future workforce by hiring and training three young tradesmen who came highly recommended by their SCTC instructor.
“It absolutely helps our workforce,” she said. “We now have three young guys (working). A lot of our machinists are getting older and are getting read to retire, so we have some replacements.
“The manufacturing industry has been talking about this for years, that ‘Hey, your workforce is getting older, you need to get some younger people involved.’ And that’s when we came up with the apprenticeship program.”
Bryner added: “It’s all an investment in the employees and the company.”
In addition to these three new apprentices, Global/SFC Valve is training two long-time employees – each with about 20 years of work experience – who wanted to earn their journeyman machinist papers. They are expected to graduate next June.
“They only needed two years (of study) because they already had the experience,” Heining said.
Supporting Naval operations
Global/SFC Valve has 50 employees, including machinists, welders, inspectors, and assemblers. Together, these employees produce components that help the U.S. Navy to operate its fleet of nearly 300 active ships and submarines, send tankers to refuel ships at sea and safety transport military personnel throughout the world.
“It’s not just one person working on an entire valve, it’s a whole group of people with team effort putting time an effort into the part,” Walters said.
Heining added: “If one of the valves fail, it could crash the submarine. Lives are at stake with the products that we make. We’re considered a critical supplier to the Navy”
The three apprentices said they’re learning a lot from their training and are thankful for the apprenticeship opportunity.
“I went ahead with it because it’s going to be more helpful for me in the company, to learn more about the trade,” Miller said. “It will make me a better machinist, more valuable to the company.”
Walters added: “It means that I get to learn more and it’s helpful for the company, because the better I am at doing my job and learning my job, the better the company is.”
Birth agreed and added that he’s proud to pursue a career that supports the nation’s military. He mentioned that his brother is currently serving in the U.S. Army. “I wanted to be a mechanical engineer in the Air Force…but I wouldn’t be able to serve,” he said. “This is one of the reasons I decide to come here. I’m not able to serve but at least this way, one, it’s a great company (to work for) and two, it’s making valuable parts for the men and women that are serving and makes their life easier.”