By Linda M. Hogan

An advanced manufacturing company was able to overcome a severe skills shortage by following a systematic process to define the gap and determine solutions, implementing an apprenticeship program, and forming partnerships.

The systematic approach of human performance technology was applied to a Rolls-Royce plant in Virginia to close a critical skills gap in advanced manufacturing. Massive recruitment efforts yielded few potential employees. The company wanted to have a pool of future computer numerical control (CNC) machinists that fit within the company culture of high-performance engaged employees who quickly develop the necessary competencies. In addition, the company wanted to reduce costs (including recruitment costs). The performance analysis revealed that the shortage in skilled machinists was a regional issue (Boston Consulting Group, 2013).

Several solutions to address the skills shortage were identified and included:

  • Increase publicity and advertising of jobs through radio and print
  • Cast a broader net and recruit outside the region
  • Build our own CNC machinists

Apprenticeship is a concept that has been around since the Middle Ages and is much more widely used in Europe than in the United States. It combines on-the-job training with classroom training to develop skilled employees. We developed the “build our own CNC machinists” solution by creating a charter and proposal for a registered Advanced Manufacturing CNC Machining Apprenticeship program accepted by the plant leadership team.

One of the important principles for every performance improvement project is to collaborate with clients and stakeholders. We could not have accomplished this project without the relationships with our partners at the plant, community college, high schools, and Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. The plant’s production leaders and team leaders were instrumental in guiding the project design of 568 hours of classroom instruction at John Tyler Community College and four years of structured on-the-job training at the plant. We also defined pay rates and pay progression, the starting date, number of apprentices, and communication to the existing workforce. The plant production leaders integrated the apprentices into the culture and work on the shop floor. Due to the relationship with the Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA), the plant received funding from the Virginia Community College System to offset the costs of tuition and books for the first year of apprenticeship and to work with the CCWA to develop an Introduction to Machining two-day program to get new apprentices off to a fast start.

Rolls-Royce now has a pool of future CNC machine operators at a reduced cost, apprentices are paid 60% of the journey worker rate, recruiting is simplified, and retention is 100%. These apprentices are being cross-trained and contribute to a flexible workforce and a high-performance culture. Apprentices have learned the required competencies faster than the previous average time to competence. According to research, the net benefit of a registered apprentice program is $1.53 for every $1 invested (Reed et al., 2012). Through the application of performance improvement we achieved results, added value, followed a systematic and systems approach, and developed strong partnerships to create a sustainable program that will serve Rolls-Royce as well as the region.

Boston Consulting Group. (2013). Developing an Advanced Manufacturing Workforce for Virginia’s Tobacco Region: Key Findings and Recommendations. Retrieved from

Reed, D., Liu, A. Y. H., Kleinman, R., Mastri, A., Reed, D., Sattar, S., & Ziegler, J. (2012). An effectiveness assessment and cost-benefit analysis of registered apprenticeship in 10 states (No. 7625). Mathematica Policy Research, Oakland, CA.

Linda HoganAbout the Author
Linda Hogan is a technical training consultant with the Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA). She has more than 20 years’ experience in strategic learning and business performance improvement in manufacturing. She joined CCWA in August 2011 and provides technical training expertise to Rolls-Royce sites in Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, California, Ohio, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. She has an MS in Management & Organizational Development, is a Certified Performance Technologist, and is a Project Management Professional (PMP). She can be reached at

About Community College Workforce Alliance
CCWA is the workforce development partnership between John Tyler Community College and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College serving economic development and workforce needs in four cities and 12 counties in Virginia.