In late March, I had the opportunity to tour the Grob Systems plant in Bluffton, Ohio. While I was there, I talked with Mike Hawk, the Training Supervisor at Grob, and got to see Grob’s Apprenticeship program first hand.

Grob Systems began their Apprenticeship program in 1990, shortly after the company located its U.S. headquarters in Bluffton. Mike is just the second manager to lead the program since it began. 

This year, the Grob Apprenticeship program welcomed eighteen new candidates from a well-hewn application process that included more than one hundred applicants. Clearly, over the years, Grob has gotten the word out in their small-town, rural community in western Ohio through high schools and through their community college partner, Rhodes State College in nearby Lima, Ohio.

The first things you notice about the plant tour at Grob is the clean, brightly-lit working conditions; the recent 100,000 sq. ft. addition to the building; and the extensive use of robotics and automation both in their own production, as well as in a number of turn-key cells that are under construction for a large automotive customer.

The second thing that you notice in the Grob plant is the age of the workforce. Although the Grob machines are painted in a combination of blue and grayish white, there is very little grayish white in the hair color of Grob’s workforce. It is a remarkably younger workforce than you see in many manufacturing plants today. Credit the Apprenticeship program.

In 25 years, nearly 250 Grob employees have worked their way through the Apprenticeship program and into production, fabrication, engineering, and management positions in the company, and most of them are still working at Grob today if they haven’t retired.

To say that Grob is committed to their workforce would be a gross understatement and the same is true of their partnership with Rhodes State College. Having worked with another community college in Ohio in the early days of the Apprenticeship program, Grob is now completely comfortable with their current education partner.

The Apprentices go to school half the week and work half the week. Grob pays all tuition for their students to attend the Mechanical Engineering Department at Rhodes State, along with a competitive wage during their three and a half year program. The Apprentices pay for their own books.

In this part of rural Ohio, it’s evident that Grob made the decision to grow its own workforce using its own model from the very beginning. They are a model employer in the area and one that other manufacturing companies in western Ohio look to for guidance on developing an Apprenticeship program.

If your company is interested in building an in-house Apprenticeship program with a community college education partner in your area, Grob is happy to have AMT members visit to tour their model. Contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with Mike Hawk. If traveling to western Ohio is not convenient for you, you can also find a roadmap for creating an Apprenticeship program at  
For more information about Smartforce Development, contact Greg at 703-827-5203 or For more frequent updates on Smartforce Development, follow me on Twitter @GregoryAJones.