More than a Welding Apprenticeship: John Deere
High school welding apprentices at John Deere’s Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois, facilities got a surprise this summer. In addition to learning pulse welding, laying the perfect bead, and mastering weld sizes, Deere required their apprentices ...
High school welding apprentices at John Deere’s Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois, facilities got a surprise this summer. In addition to learning pulse welding, laying the perfect bead, and mastering weld sizes, Deere required their apprentices to take a communications course through a partnership with Iowa State University’s (ISU) English Department. Apprentice Ana Burke welding.
Deere is a corporate partner with the High School Registered Apprenticeship Program (HRAP), a program that partners high school students with apprenticeships in manufacturing, security, information technology, healthcare, banking, and so on. Deere played host to seventeen high school juniors with an interest in welding: twelve students at Deere’s Davenport Works facility (Davenport, Iowa), and five students at Harvester Works (Moline, Illinois). During the summer, students worked on their welding skills, and they do even more welding during the school year when they apprentice part-time for Deere. During the academic year, they spend half of their weekday at school and the other half at Deere.
The Communication Component
David Ottavianelli, Director of Strategic Projects-Labor Relations at Deere, approached ISU’s English Department about a two-fold opportunity: (1) helping apprentices become more well-rounded employees through improving their communication skills and (2) giving ISU English Department faculty first-hand experience with communication needs in a manufacturing workplace, a faculty externship. Deere had been providing HRAP apprenticeships for several years and, in 2021, decided to put more emphasis on the apprentices’ communication skills because of the manufacturing workplace’s communication needs. Welders, machinists, and assemblers at Deere often communicate verbally and in writing with engineers about aspects of the facility that could be improved and streamlined and speak to visitors—including CEOs—touring the facility.
Emma Murray, a lecturer at Iowa State, led this preliminary effort for communication training. Typically teaching technical and science communication at the university, Emma created a curriculum that covered interpersonal communication, PowerPoint slide design, formal oral presentation skills, and components of a successful elevator pitch. Brian Spears, also a lecturer at Iowa State, collaborated with Emma to build the curriculum. Jo Mackiewicz, a professor at Iowa State and a welding student at Des Moines Area Community College, contributed to the curriculum planning as well. For four weeks, apprentices attended communication classes for four hours per week. At the end of their summer apprenticeship, the students gave a formal presentation to Deere stakeholders, explaining their key learning and experiences from the apprenticeship.
Davenport Works welding apprentice David Huntley delivers his formal presentation about the High School Registered Apprenticeship Program to John Deere personnel.
A Vision for the Future
John Deere is challenging their former and current apprentices to take their persuasive pitches about the HRAP apprenticeship back to school and into the community to persuade the public to consider career opportunities in manufacturing. David Ottavianelli is also challenging current apprentices to recruit their high school classmates to join the program so students can be paid to learn a skilled trade—a large need in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. Ottavianelli wants to keep expanding the program and would like more ISU faculty involved as the program grows to include the Waterloo, Ottumwa, and Des Moines facilities.
Harvester Works welding apprentice Garrett Castens works with Continuous Improvement tags. Deere employees use the tags to identify workplace issues so facility efficiency can be improved.
This article was written by Emma Murray and Jo Mackiewicz for the American Welding Society.