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Skilled to Work: Small business says apprenticeships helped build and support their company

Cathy and Don Jesse started their apprenticeship program in 2016 using primarily students from Wallace State Community College.

Posted: Oct 31, 2019 6:45 PM
Updated: Oct 31, 2019 6:50 PM

When the Great Depression hit the economy of Michigan back in 2008, wife and husband Cathy and Don Jesse took a gamble and moved about 800 miles south to central Alabama to focus on a machine tooling business of theirs: Met-South Inc. 

"We came with only a suitcase, a coffee pot and our dog. So it was a temporary move, but we decided, we just kept working at it, and decided we love it. We decided to stay," said Cathy Jesse.

Governor Kay Ivey gave an award to Cathy and Don Jesse for their work in helping to build a workforce pipeline using apprenticeships. (Courtesy: Cathy Jesse) Governor Kay Ivey gave an award to Cathy and Don Jesse for their work in helping to build a workforce pipeline using apprenticeships. (Courtesy: Cathy Jesse)

However, they discovered over the next few years that they weren't able to find the steady and consistent workforce they needed.

"We started in Maplesville, then went to Clanton, then we ended up in what we thought would be our final move to Birmingham and just always had trouble with workforce, getting the qualified workforce in place," said Cathy.

Then in 2014, they said they had the great fortune of coming across a graduate from Wallace State Community College and brought him on board. Over the next two years, the couple decided to institute an apprenticeship program using Wallace State graduates.

"It made it easy because at first we hired three people right off the bat and being a small company, and being a small company we actually doubled our workforce, which isn’t an easy thing to do because you have to have work to justify it," said Don.

Last year, the Jesses moved their business to Hanceville in Cullman County to be as close to Wallace State as possible. In January 2019, Governor Kay Ivey recognized their work in fostering apprentices with an award.

Zach Sloan, 25, graduated from Wallace State during the summer and became one of Met-South's newest apprentices.

"I was getting close to finishing and they were like, we’re looking for somebody to come in an do what I was looking to do. So it was kind of just right place, right time and perfect fit," said Sloan.

Before joining Met-South, Sloan worked at another tooling shop, but said it didn't give him the opportunities to work with computer numeric control (CNC) machines and stretch his learning.

"Just anything that has to do with the programming side of it and is kind of on the computer and in the office setting that’s something a lot of guys don’t get to do until they’ve worked somewhere a long time: five to ten years. And then I come in the door here and they let me take that responsibility on. So I'm just really grateful for that and a good opportunity," said Sloan.

Both Cathy and Don said that even though not all apprentices stay at the businesses where they are trained, they believe it's important for both large and small companies across all industries to invest in the workforce.

We’ve lost some people, especially after training them, which is kind of a double-edged sword, but we also put good, qualified people out in the workforce. A couple of them have a leadership position right now because of the things that we taught them," said Don.

They added that they look forward to working more with the new Alabama Office of Apprenticeship as it works toward final approval from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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