Forget student debt: HCCC-EMI program will pay apprentices to earn manufacturing degree

Learn and, better yet, get paid to do it. That could be the plan for prospective manufacturing workers, if Hudson County Community College and Eastern Millwork Inc. have anything to say about it.

HCCC has partnered with EMI to create a joint apprenticeship program that would lead to an Associate in Applied Science degree in advanced manufacturing, HCCC President Chris Reber announced recently.

The announcement of the joint venture comes at a time when HCCC is expanding its workforce development program and EMI needs employees skilled in advanced manufacturing.

“The increasingly global nature of advanced manufacturing poses great challenges to companies like EMI that are faced with difficulty in finding highly skilled, experienced workers,” Reber said. “Apprentices who complete this earn-while-you-learn program will climb the career ladder and acquire their A.A.S. degree without any college debt. We are proud to have forged this partnership with EMI, which will ultimately benefit the economic prosperity of our region.”

Focused on custom and high-end automated woodwork manufacturing and installation, Jersey City-based EMI is looking to train up to four qualified high school students a year. The four-year, dual-education program begins in July. Apprentices receive full benefits — including a 401(k), health insurance and paid vacation and holidays. They’ll receive a starting salary of $24,500 that’ll rise to $70,000 by the end of the fourth year, when they receive their A.A.S. degrees and officially become engineers with EMI.

“Ours is a very specialized industry; one that has been struggling to find qualified, skilled talent,” said Eastern Millwork owner and President Andrew Campbell. “This partnership with Hudson County Community College embraces both talent and technology. It will help us to fill the void that has existed, it will open the doors for the young people of our community to have well-paying careers with many options, and it will enable EMI and our industry to provide value that importers cannot provide.”

EMI will be using a European dual-education model in which hired apprentices devote three days a week to practical experiences and one to industry-specific studies/training. The fifth is spent at HCCC, partaking in coursework for their degree — English, mathematics, sociology and humanities studies, as well as tools, digital design for fabrication, 3-D digital design and other field-related courses.

Campbell said an internship aspect to the program, in which high school juniors train and become apprentices after they graduate, will exist. Four qualified interns are to be hired for a four-week stint in July. They will receive a stipend for their work.

A 26-year-old custom woodworking company, EMI operates out of a newly constructed facility in Jersey City. EMI said the company successfully challenges the common belief that high-quality woodworking can only be produced by hand. EMI designs are featured in corporate, residential, institutional and other settings, including the New York Times Building, General Electric, Rockefeller Center and more.

Hudson County Community College is the largest of four higher-education institutions in Hudson County. The college has an enrollment of 15,000 credit and non-credit students, and operates from two urban campuses — the main campus in the Journal Square area of Jersey City and the North Hudson campus in Union City — as well as several off-campus locations.

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