As the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) works to support a growing population in its coverage area, it launched a new apprenticeship program to help staff its Power Supply Shop.
Ivey Terry, a recent graduate of the welding program at Northwest Shoals Community College (NW-SCC), is one of ten machinists who are part of the inaugural cohort.
"It's been very different because with a machinist, you’re dealing with thousandths. Being a welder, it’s oh, you’re in a 16th, you’re good. And so it’s very different. It's very challenging, more as a machinist. I really enjoy it," said Terry.
During the four-year apprenticeship, which began at the beginning of the year, students spend their days in the power shop and Mondays and Tuesdays in the machining classroom at the NW-SCC campus.
"We got the program set up on 1600 hours of OJT [on the job training] and they get 400 hours of classroom. So they’re working 40, 50, 60 hours a week, going to school two nights a week," said Wendell Dean, the apprenticeship coordinator.
The program is run in partnership with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 65. Business Representative Keith McFarland said they launched the apprenticeship to address a growing need in the Tennessee Valley.
"Several years ago, we identified that there were some gaps with our ability to fill some positions that TVA and its partner contractors perform work all across the Tennessee Valley. So we had to come up with a way to ensure that we had good, qualified people to perform the work all across the 90,000 square mile region," said McFarland.
Power Shop Senior Manager Corey Saint said keeping the Power Supply Shop well staffed with machinists is crucial for the TVA.
"The Power Service Shop is basically the emergency room for the TVA. So as parts and components fail at the job sites, we have field crews that go out, take those components and send them to the Power Service Shop for refurbishment," said Saint.
According to the Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL), machinists are the fourth most in-demand job both across Alabama and in the Tennessee Valley. On average, the job pays about $44,000 per year, according to the latest numbers.
John Greer said working as a TVA apprentice is giving him a chance to expand his skill set.
"With my old job, I was running CNC [computer numerical control] equipment. I didn’t have any manual machines and I was just looking to further my skills in the trade and learn all I could and be worth more," said Greer.
Meanwhile Terry said she is going to stick with the program, even though it has been challenging.
"I wanted to quit, and my mom was like, no, you can do it. And I want to be able to finish to prove to her that I can do it," said Terry.
The newest cohort of apprentices was signed on earlier this month. They will start in January 2020 and a new cohort will be added every year thereafter.