Hershey, vocational rehabilitation, pre-apprenticeship training and registered apprenticeships:
A career pathway for individuals with disabilities
Speaker 1: VR Workforce Studio: inspiration, education, and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the VR Workforce Studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 2: Listen to our amazing stories about the disability employment journey.
Speaker 3: Hear us describe our pathway through the challenge.
Speaker 2: And feel the joy and share in our inspiration as we overcome disabilities and go to work.
Speaker 1: We’ll also meet the champions of business and industry who hire individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 3: I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of our best employees have disabilities.
Speaker 1: And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work. Now, here’s the host of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore, along with the executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Anne Hudlow.
Speaker 4: Three, two, one …
Anne Hudlow: On today’s show, How E.T.-
Rick Sizemore: “Phone home.” You remember E.T., don’t you?
Anne Hudlow: I remember him. I love that little guy and his favorite food, too. On today’s show, we’ll find out how E.T.’s favorite, Reese’s Pieces, and vocational rehabilitation are creating apprenticeship opportunities in a Fortune 500 company for manufacturing technology training graduates.
Rick Sizemore: Yes, who happen to have disabilities. We’ll talk with Chris Hall about his apprenticeable job as a production operator at Hershey.
Anne Hudlow: And reflect on CSAVR’s Vision 2020, Mission Driven and Dual Customer-Focused. As my good friend and CSAVR CEO Steve Wooderson would say, “It’s about Chris’ disability employment story and how VR also serves business and industry. With that in mind, we talk with Karen Van Curen, the senior HR manager at the Hershey plant in Stuarts Draft, where Chris works-
Rick Sizemore: As we take a look at the pre-apprenticeship training Chris received through vocational rehabilitation, his workforce credentials, and a pathway to registered apprenticeships at Hershey. Also on today’s show, Debby Hopkins from the V2V Federal DOL Grant and Todd Cook from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry.
Anne Hudlow: So, let’s roll it and join Rick on his remote interview now with Chris Hall.
Rick Sizemore: We’re on the podcast with Chris Hall. Welcome back, Chris. How are you doing?
Chris Hall: I’m doing great. I’m just on my way to work right now, being a productive member of society.
Rick Sizemore: That is awesome. Tell us about your job: where you’re working and what you’re doing.
Chris Hall: All right. Well, I am working at a Hershey plant in Stuarts Draft. I am on Line 37, which is the Mounds, Almond Joy snack size, and I am a case stacker, which means I basically wash and maintain all the robots that pack the candy.
Rick Sizemore: That is awesome. Do you like working there?
Chris Hall: I actually do, yeah. Everyone has been super-welcoming, super-friendly. It’s a great environment. My manager is great. There have been some trainers there that have really looked out for me. Yeah, I enjoy it.
Rick Sizemore: Well, you went through our pre-apprenticeship program here at Wilson and the manufacturing technology training. Did it prepare you to walk through the door and be ready to go?
Chris Hall: I think so. They taught us a lot about the manufacturing environment and what it looked like to work in a team, a lot of special skills required. Our instructor was an engineer at this same plant for 20 years. So, he got us in the door, and we were really prepared for everything.
Rick Sizemore: What’s it like working with your peers? Obviously, you went through this program because you had a disability, but it seems like you’ve moved into that work environment and the disability really isn’t much of an issue.
Chris Hall: Yeah. Really, I am treated the same as everyone else. I’ve confided in a couple people that I’m part of the Abilities First Program, and they seem very, very surprised that I actually am part of that, because they say I’m, in their words, “sharp as a tack” and I pick up things very quickly.
I’m part of the Abilities First Program at Hershey, which is a program that they set up and it’s about equal pay, equal work, equal expectations. They don’t treat us any differently. They make sure that we are able to do the job; but, once they are certain of that, then they just let us go. They really give people with disabilities an opportunity.
Rick Sizemore: You’re in a production associate or a manufacturing tech job, which is an apprenticeable job.
Chris Hall: I know that, if I’m being real honest, it’s a little intimidating, because having a learning disability, having ADHD, makes it hard for me to focus, hard for me to take in information. If I get the apprenticeship, it’s amazing. They’ll pay for my school. They’ll pay me to go to school, but I’ll still be expected to work a 40-hour work week. So, it’s a little intimidating, the thought of trying to keep up with all the school work plus working a 40-hour work week.
Rick Sizemore: But what a career opportunity.
Chris Hall: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I really want to pursue it. I think it’ll be so fantastic for me.
Rick Sizemore: That is so awesome. Well, what’s the work environment like? What’s it like working with your co-workers?
Chris Hall: I get along with everyone really well. They have me cross-training in a lot of different areas, which is something that they just love when they have people that want to learn. So, I’m meeting lot of different people on my line. All the people I’ve trained with I’ve gotten along extremely well with and I’ve formed relationships with.
Rick Sizemore: Could you compare your life today as a manufacturing tech making good money and having these credentials … Could you compare your life today to, say, two years ago?
Chris Hall: Oh, it is a night and day difference. Two years ago, I could not have even fathomed being in this position. Going to Woodrow Wilson (Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center) literally changed my life, for the better obviously. I mean, I went from someone who was extremely reclusive, who was overcome by anxiety and depression, who only left the house maybe once a month to all in a year getting a handful of very good certification, getting a full-time job, getting my learner’s permit, getting a driver’s license, even getting my first car.
Rick Sizemore: That must be a great feeling.
Chris Hall: It really is. Honestly, for the first time in my life, I feel independent. I feel like I’m going somewhere. I got tired of stagnating. This is exactly what I wanted, and Woodrow Wilson allowed me to do that.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s awesome. Vocational rehabilitation provides a great career pathway through this pre-apprenticeship, moving on into a job, and then the potential of a registered apprenticeship. So, that’s pretty exciting.
You’ll be in Dallas, Texas at the Work-Based Learning Conference talking about your experience as a pre-apprentice and your experience and your experience in VR; so, we wish you the very best with that and your continued success as a manufacturing technician and in an apprenticeable job there at Hershey.
Chris Hall: All right. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I’m really looking forward to a promising future there.
Rick Sizemore: Well, that’s awesome, Chris. I guess one last question I have for you: What does it feel like working at the plant that was built to produce Reese’s Pieces, the official food of E.T.
Chris Hall: It’s pretty cool, actually. I actually love telling people that I work in a chocolate factory. Their reaction is either disbelief, because people don’t really know where chocolate comes from, or maybe they compare it to Willy Wonka.
Rick Sizemore: Well, listen, all the best to you, my friend, and keep up the great work.
Chris Hall: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Anne Hudlow: What a great disability employment story, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: So inspiring, and yet it’s only half the story. I was fortunate enough this week to be on a conference call with Steve Wooderson, and he described the key principles of Vision 2020. Let’s take a listen.
Steve Wooderson: Conceptually, those principles are really to ensuring that we meet the needs of our dual customer, the individuals with disabilities and business, that we provide evidence that VR embraces and leads change, that we demonstrate that flexibility leads to better outcomes, and that we work with our partners to align the resources to impact greater those opportunities for consumers with individuals that we serve and with businesses.
Anne Hudlow: Speaking of business and Vision 2020’s dual customer focus, one of the deliverables for VR is to support great companies like Hershey who are employing Chris and other talented individuals with disabilities.
Rick Sizemore: We’re fortunate to have the senior human resource manager from the Hershey plant in Stuarts Draft, Karen Van Curen. She was on the podcast several years ago, and we’re delighted to welcome you back, Karen Van Curen.
Karen Van Curen: Thanks, Rick. It’s great to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Awesome. I have lived in this community for the past three decades. I’ve driven by this plant, and yet the magnitude of this operation is unbelievable. Could you just give us a little overview of just how big, and how massive, and how intense this operation is at the Stuarts Draft plant?
Karen Van Curen: Sure, sure. The plant opened in 1982 to make Reese’s Pieces, which came from the movie E.T.
Rick Sizemore: Really?
Karen Van Curen: Yes, if you remember back that far.
Rick Sizemore: I do.
Karen Van Curen: Yeah. It’s hard to imagine that just a small candy from a movie could turn into what we have today. But, with all of the additions that we’ve had to our plant, we now have 650,000 square feet sitting on about 300 acres. We have around a thousand employees, 15 manufacturing lines, and we put out about 251 million pounds of chocolate a year.
Rick Sizemore: That’s hard to wrap your mind around, 251 million pounds of chocolate a year.
Karen Van Curen: A year.
Rick Sizemore: What a great place to work.
Karen Van Curen: Yeah. We call it a sweet job.
Rick Sizemore: It’s a sweet job. We’ve been working with Hershey, and they’re regarded as such a champion and always have been through the years, hiring individuals with disabilities and supporting them. Things, though, as we have discussed many times, are really evolving in such powerful ways in the workforce. Now we have this new manufacturing technology training program here at the center, and we have evolved this pre-apprenticeship training.
As you know, we just heard from Chris, one of the pre-apprenticeship graduates who now works at Hershey. How are things going with Chris’ job as a pre-apprentice and now Hershey employee?
Karen Van Curen: Things are going great for Chris. Speaking with his workmates, he is totally able to take on new tasks, to keep up with the new tasks. He has a general understanding of the work flow, of how things work, and I think that that’s why he can learn quickly when he’s placed into a new assignment.
Rick Sizemore: He loves chocolate, too.
Karen Van Curen: He hasn’t mentioned that to me, but he certainly can have all of the chocolate that he wants.
Rick Sizemore: The first week he worked, I met him in the parking lot. He actually lived here for a few weeks while he was transitioning. He had a big bag of chocolate. He said, “I work in the greatest place in the world.”
Karen Van Curen: You know, he always has a smile.
Rick Sizemore: He does.
Karen Van Curen: So, I feel like he’s happy in the work environment.
Rick Sizemore: Oh, he loves it. I think he does.
Karen Van Curen: I know his workmates are pleased with his work. We started out small in terms of employing folks that maybe just don’t have the same abilities as some of our other folks, but they certainly have abilities, and we want to focus on what people can do rather than things that they can’t do. As our program has evolved, we have been able to see more and more successful people with more and more abilities; but, some of our employees who’ve been there a while, they’re not sure what to expect when someone new comes in.
I did talk … He’s on second shift. I went to his line, and just visiting as part of a normal walkthrough, and they were just very excited with the work that he can do and the lack of job shadowing that he really needs.
Rick Sizemore: So, he moved right into the work?
Karen Van Curen: He did. He picks it up very quickly.
Rick Sizemore: It was interesting. Through the years we had the Hershey Heroes Program and we tried to identify people and bring them to Hershey, but this MTT and pre-apprenticeship training, that’s a whole new deal: 17 weeks. They get the Manufacturing Specialist and the Manufacturing Technician I. Are they ready, when they walk through the door, to go to work for you as pre-apprentices?
Karen Van Curen: They are. They’re ready to work whenever they get there. They understand general process flow, I believe, from raw ingredients through finished product, and then whatever step along the way in the process that they’re assigned to, it’s not difficult for them to understand or pick up or even troubleshoot.
Rick Sizemore: Yeah. Right. Well, Chris had the good fortune to tour Hershey when he was in the program, and one of his stated goals was to work at Hershey. So, it really was a nice combination of what he was learning here, but then having the opportunity to compare and contrast his educational experience with the realities of working at Hershey. He said to me, “It’s a great gateway into Hershey,” the program.
Karen Van Curen: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I think it’s a good opportunity for those students in the program. Even if Hershey’s not ultimately the employer where they desire to work, for whatever reason, I think the sooner that they see a live manufacturing process, probably the easier it is to learn in the test environment. We’re happy to offer those opportunities.
Rick Sizemore: Well, we’re really excited about the new model of pre-apprenticeship, which is really aligned with the Federal Department of Labor’s standards for pre-apprenticeship, of course the program here, MTT, and then registered apprenticeship gateway to a Fortune 500 company like Hershey. Tell us how Hershey uses registered apprenticeships at the Stuarts Draft plant.
Karen Van Curen: What we do is, they are at work part of the time, they’re in class part of the time, and we use that to groom the next generation of trades workers in our plant, because there’s such a shortage in the market right now. We’re very excited to be able to look at an opportunity for that for our entry-level production workers as well.
Rick Sizemore: So, that requires an agreement with the state’s Department of Labor and Industry to be able to offer those registered apprenticeships. Do you see apprenticeship opportunities growing at the plant?
Karen Van Curen: Certainly, we do, especially in our maintenance area. There’s a generation of workers that didn’t go to trade school; they went to college. Now, as the current folks retire, we’re finding we don’t have-
Rick Sizemore: What you need?
Karen Van Curen: … what we need, and so we’re growing our own talent.
Rick Sizemore: The job that Chris is in is essentially a manufacturing technician. I think you call them production-
Karen Van Curen: Operators. Yes.
Rick Sizemore: … production operator, but it’s a basic manufacturing tech. That is an apprenticeable job. So, I know that he has an interest in moving in that direction. Hopefully, in the future we may have that opportunity.
Karen Van Curen: Yeah. We look forward to sponsoring Chris in that way and others as well.
Rick Sizemore: Well, it’s such an honor to have you on our podcast and also to talk about the relationship that we’ve had for, oh, so many years between Hershey and the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center. In fact, we’re most excited in recent times about this manufacturing technology training program. The man who started it, Jim Leach, was a former Hershey employee for, I believe, 20 years or so. So, our paths have crossed in so many ways through the years, and we wish you and the operation nothing but the best of success in the future.
Karen Van Curen: We look forward to continued partnership.
Rick Sizemore: Anne and I are unbelievably excited to have, really, a representative from the federal government, from the Department of Labor’s V2V Grant, and state Department of Labor and Industry as we talk about this vocational rehabilitation pathway through voc rehab to a job as an apprentice.
Anne Hudlow: Welcome, Debby. You’ve been on the show before and you are known throughout the state for your extraordinary work in helping promote apprenticeships and you are without a doubt a champion for the MTT program. We welcome you to the podcast again.
Debby Hopkins: I am glad to be here.
Rick Sizemore: And Todd is an apprenticeship consultant and advanced manufacturing technical specialist. Over the past 10 years, we’ve realized … This is a staggering figure … a million dollars in savings as a result of registered apprenticeship sponsors here in the region through the grant partnership.
Debby and Todd, you both have very important pieces of this new model that brings the pre-apprenticeship, vocational rehabilitation, and registered apprenticeships together. So, I’d like to get started by saying, “It’s working.”
Anne Hudlow: It’s working.
Rick Sizemore: I mean, it’s working. We’re seeing students go to work. I couldn’t be more excited to have you both here.
Anne Hudlow: Debby, maybe you could get us started with what V2V is and how you connected with MTT. V2V means Valley to Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley to Virginia. It was a $4 million American Apprenticeship Initiative Grant that the Department of Labor has provided to us to help expand registered apprenticeship in skilled trade occupations throughout Virginia. So, we already had strong partnerships with the state apprenticeship agency for more than a decade. We have strong partnerships with the Wilson Workforce Center for probably that long, with DARS and other key workforce partners.
This program allows us to really target resources to pull together all of these strong partnerships and create a pathway for students who can learn manufacturing skills. They can be vetted for employment. They can be tremendous along the path of an apprenticeship pathway with companies and meet a huge demand that companies have for their skilled workforce.
Rick Sizemore: So, there is a manufacturing technology training program here at Wilson Workforce. We are not only a local educational agency, but a vocational rehabilitation training program in one site. But then you’ve been able to align that program with the Federal Department of Labor’s standards for a pre-apprenticeship. So, they’re not only getting this vocational training, but a pre-apprenticeship experience. How did you go about creating that status for MTT?
Debby Hopkins: Well, first it started with the design of the grant a year before we actually got the grant in 2015 with partners such as Todd Cook and others on the design team in trying to figure out what a pre-apprenticeship was. This was new terminology for us. What is it? What is the Department of Labor looking for to build this pipeline?
Once we had that defined in our grant, we had Wilson as a partner. We had people with disabilities targeted. When we got the money, we were able to pull together and really investigate exactly, “What does this mean?” Here’s what it means: First of all, it means that we need to have committed registered apprenticeship sponsors like Hershey who want to build a pipeline of talent and who are wide open to the wonderful possibilities of employing people with disabilities. That’s number one. So, people like Hershey, people like F.R. Drake, people who are on your Employer Advisory Council already. That’s essential. They have to be registered apprenticeship sponsors and they have to give input to the program.
Second, we have to make sure that the people who are selected to be students can work in a manufacturing environment. They have to be able to get a job before they are trained in the environment that they’re selecting. They have to be assessed. Wilson already had tremendous assessment models already to assess not just the basic skills in reading, math, and so forth, but just 10 times more of assessments than the Department of Labor really require.
Once that’s assessed, then in addition to the training, which is so extensive through this … the hands-on training … the industry exposure, the exposure to registered apprenticeship itself. For every class, I come in and give a presentation to make sure that the students understand the value of seeking employment with registered apprenticeship sponsors: the career path they’ll have, the extra income that data shows that they’ll be able to achieve.
Rick Sizemore: The model, it is great. I know Anne’s excited, because she and the foundation staff have contributed to that program with simulators and lots of other support.
I just want to finish describing the model. You’ve been able to help the center gain this alignment-
Debby Hopkins: Yes.
Rick Sizemore: … with the federal DOL requirements. They go through their training. They obtain a Manufacturing Specialist and a Manufacturing Technician I credential. Then they pursue a registered apprenticeship.
Todd, that’s where you come in. Tell us about the registered apprenticeships through the Department of Labor and Industry.
Todd Cook: Yes, and thanks for having us here today, Rick, to talk to you about the best workforce solution out there and that’s registered apprenticeship.
Rick Sizemore: This is hot.
Todd Cook: It is. I mean, it is extremely hot, and the reason being is because employers are genuinely having a need now for qualified people. Tremendous shortages, low unemployment. Generally, what we were seeing was, in the skilled occupations, such as the maintenance mechanic or maintenance electrician, some of the just skilled areas, they just couldn’t find people. We’re seeing that even spill over into production, that they’re having difficulty even finding production.
Hence, we found this manufacturing technician program, which is an 18-month program that aligns very well with what is being taught here. So, what’s happening now is we’re getting a lot of partnerships going on, and this is a beautiful partnership with our Shenandoah Workforce Development Board, WWRC, the Division of Registered Apprenticeship through the Department of Labor and Industry, and other partners that are really working together to help solve some of that problems that our employers are having out there with workforce, with finding qualified people to be able to step into positions that can require additional training.
The beauty of bringing in a student from WWRC into a Hershey is it’s going to provide Hershey now an opportunity to continue that employee’s growth through a registered apprenticeship program as a manufacturing technician. That is an 18-month program, where some of the skills and education that they’ve received here at WWRC would count towards their instruction as an adult apprentice, therefore saving, number one, our employer some funds on having to provide that type of training and, number two, recognizing that individual for what they have accomplished to this point and picking them up from there.
Then it is up to the company at that point to provide any additional hands-on or theory training that is related to that particular occupation that would assist that individual in mastering the skills of their position.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about some of the supports that are in place for not only the company itself, but for the apprentice.
Debby Hopkins: Well, one of the reason that I believe companies are sometimes afraid to step into hiring people with disabilities on any great degree is because they don’t understand. They don’t understand what it is. They assume that they’re going to have to make big changes in the environment, but the truth is that all these individuals come with amazing support.
The counselors and the case managers will make sure that that individual is matched with whatever supports they need, whatever adaptations that they need on the job, and this is pretty much invisible to the employer. They say what they need, the case manager. The counselor can help make it so that it works. So, all of this comes when you hire people with disabilities. They come for this lifelong, really, career-long in having support. If they need it, there’ll be someone there to be able to help them.
Anne Hudlow: Debby, you have a new video that you put together with CPID.
Debby Hopkins: Yes, we’re pretty excited about that. This video highlights individuals who are in the MTT program, employers who are also registered apprenticeship sponsors who can see how those two connect, and better explains for persons who have not heard of pre-apprenticeship … Maybe they haven’t even heard of apprenticeship … how this model can help pull together individuals who are going through the manufacturing technology program here at WWRC.
Rick Sizemore: Todd Cook from Virginia Department of Labor and Industry; Debby Hopkins from our V2V Grant here at the local Workforce Board; Anne, an incredible show.
Anne Hudlow: Oh, it really is. I have to add: This program, this apprenticeship program, would not be what it is without people like these two-
Rick Sizemore: Getting it done.
Anne Hudlow: … leading the way, getting it done, following up. It’s an incredible, incredible thing that you all are doing and your passion is evident.
Rick Sizemore: It’s time for a Clearinghouse Update with Cherie Takemoto, with a review of the latest news and resources on apprenticeships.
Cherie Takemoto: If you are interested in learning more about apprenticeships, we have some exciting resources to share. The Rehabilitation Services Administration, or RSA, supports technical assistance centers, who disseminate the latest in vocational rehabilitation research and innovation. Today I’d like to highlight some of their recommendations. The first TA center is a job-driven vocational rehabilitation TA center, or JD-VRTAC. Listeners can choose from a series of webinars with solid information on registered apprenticeships for people with disabilities. They also have a webinar for folks interested in pre-apprenticeship programs.
For those of you ready to dive in, the JD-VRTAC hosts a Community of Practice on paid work internships, pre-apprenticeships, and registered apprenticeships. Stay tuned to the NCRTM for new offerings from the JD-VRTAC, because this week they are hosting an intensive two-day training on inclusive work-based learning.
The second TA center I’d like to feature is the Workforce Innovation TA Center, or WINTAC. They host a Community of Practice on career pathways and they invite your listeners to join. I’ve included one of their webinars featuring Charleston, South Carolina’s Youth Apprenticeship Program.
WINTAC also shared with me their top picks from the Office of Apprenticeship in the U.S. Department of Labor. I really liked the Quick-Start Tool Kit, because it’s useful for business, labor, workforce partners, community colleges, or community-based organizations interested in sharing their own apprenticeship programs.
That’s the NCRTM Update. I’m Cherie Takemoto.
Anne Hudlow: The VR Workforce Studio is pleased to welcome our new partner, Cherie Takemoto, who directs RSA’s National Clearinghouse for Rehabilitation Training Materials. Cherie’s put together a great listing of the links and information about apprenticeships and will have all of those with her contact information in the Show Notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Rick Sizemore: You can find the contacts for all of our guests, links to their training materials, and the Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities Apprenticeship Video, produced by our good friend Dr. Gwen Schiada and the wonderful team at Career Puppy. Special thanks to all of our guests and to Dr. Joe Ashley with the CPID grant for his technical support and assistance with today’s show.
Until next time, I’m Rick Sizemore.
Anne Hudlow: And I’m Anne Hudlow with the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation.