Apprenticeships Help Open the Doors to STEM Careers

Apprenticeships Help Open the Doors to STEM Careers

By Daniel Koprowski, Mechatronics Technician Apprentice, Phoenix Contact

This story begins with an apprenticeship opportunity, which I received from Phoenix Contact in the springtime of 2014, my senior year of high school. Phoenix Contact gave a presentation to the Engineering Technology students, but I was unable to attend the presentation because I was in co-operative education work-study at the time. My instructor eagerly gave me all of the information regarding the apprenticeship upon my return. After attending an open house hosted at the facility and completing my application, I was interviewed twice before being offered a position, which I accepted two weeks after graduating high school.

I had already enrolled at Pennsylvania College of Technology for industrial engineering when the opportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program appeared. The decision to drop out of PCT and accept the position at Phoenix Contact was difficult, but without a trace of doubt, proved to be worthwhile. The opportunity to have my formal education sponsored while working full time and gaining practical experience helped me to make up my mind in short order.

Through this program, I have gained a sponsored education, three years and counting of work experience, travel opportunities, and many practical skills for the workplace and life. I have learned to work with a broad array of individuals from many aspects of the company including manufacturing, sales, engineering, building maintenance, information technology, and administration. Project planning and management are also skills emphasized in my apprenticeship. I have been tasked with designing and implementing new systems or renovating existing ones on several occasions.  

Responsibility and independence were given to me very early in my time with the company. I have visited to the company’s headquarters in Germany to study for a month twice. This has proven beneficial to my education technically, culturally, and has allowed me to build relationships with colleagues that I work with remotely from the Harrisburg office.  

The skills I have acquired in my time as an apprentice have given me the confidence to continue pursuing challenges in my career. Whenever an opportunity presents itself where I lack knowledge or confidence in a skill, I have experienced professionals available to assist and guide me. In my role as an apprentice, I move through many departments to assist with projects and to shadow experts.  From upgrading major components of equipment to installing and commissioning new machines, I have learned the workings of manufacturing systems alongside skilled technicians and integrators.

Mechanical engineers have taught me how to design fixtures, and production planners have taught me workflows and load management. Technicians and electrical engineers have taught me how to create and upgrade power and control systems. Product quality professionals have taught me practical statistics and consistency in manufacturing. I have gained troubleshooting skills that relate directly to a myriad of equipment types, makers, and ages. Working with such a wide variety of professionals has afforded me many opportunities to work as a part of a team on projects such as product testing and certification, or recreating customers’ problems to assist them better.

Apprenticeship opportunities are available for many career paths including technicians, electricians, plumbers, machinists, welders, sales, information technology, and others. I strongly suggest that anybody considering a STEM or trades-oriented career look to see what opportunities to be apprenticed are available. If you are as invested in the education as your employer is invested in you, there should be exponential opportunities for professional growth. Firsthand experience in the working environment is invaluable, and the opportunity to network with other professionals can open many doors to the future.

The Mechatronics Technician Apprenticeship has certainly given me a jumpstart on forming a career and allowed me to have a high quality of life while working towards my education. It offers me an employment opportunity with a company that is thoroughly invested in education, employee wellness, and career advancement. The opportunities for professional growth are many, and one would be wise to take them. 

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