This article was originally published on

For previous generations, apprenticeships were common transitions into adulthood. In the days when post-secondary education was rarer and less necessary, apprenticeships were practical, hands-on ways to learn a skill in the absence of a classroom.

Although apprenticeships aren’t as common as they once were, some institutions still embrace the potential that the hands-on training can offer. After Wacker Polysilicon North America came to the region a few years ago, the manufacturer and Chattanooga State Community College announced an apprenticeship partnership called the Wacker Institute—a mutually beneficial relationship that provides Wacker with reliable employees and students paychecks, degrees and the potential for job offers.

“Businesses that use apprenticeships reduce worker turnover by fostering greater employee loyalty, increasing productivity and profitability, and improving the bottom line,” Tim McGhee, Tennessee Building & Construction Institute director at CSCC, said. “Registered apprenticeships are an employer-driven model that combine on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction that increases an apprentice’s skill level and wages.”

Wacker, which manufactures hyperpure polysilicon (used in the photovoltaic and solar energy industries), will, when fully operational, create over 600 high-tech jobs and contribute significantly to the growth and expansion in advanced manufacturing in the region.

“Wacker’s investment in Chattanooga State Community College ($3.5 million) contributed to the construction of the Wacker Institute, one of the most advanced training facilities available on a college campus around the country,” McGhee said.

Under the Wacker Institute training, accepted participants can choose one of three paths.

The chemical operations program is for engineering technicians who will essentially run the plant, including chemical processes and unit operations. It’s a two-year program where students attend classes three days a week and work at the plant one or two days a week.

Apprentices in the mechanical systems maintenance program are engineering technicians who will provide maintenance support for the plant. During this two-year program, students attend classes three days a week and work at the plant two days per week.

The final apprenticeship tract is for engineering technicians who will provide instrumentation and controls maintenance support to the plant. This program also lasts for two years, and students go to class three days a week and work at the plant two days a week.

All apprentices receive $12 per hour the first year and $13 per hour the second year. When finished, graduates will have an associate’s of applied science degree in chemical engineering technology or engineering systems technology.

The only prerequisites are that applicants to the programs must have a high school diploma or GED and test at the college level in math, reading and writing. Wacker will interview, drug screen and background check all accepted applicants.

“The partnership with Wacker has been crucial to our ability to understand the training and education practices of the German education system—which drives the workforce development efforts of Wacker and other German manufacturers,” McGhee said. “What we have learned is the need for a blend of the German best practices combined with American education best practices. The Wacker Institute is also used in support of other regional industry needs. Wacker is truly one of our very best partners.”

Wacker has extended job offers to many graduates of the program, although a job offer is not guaranteed. However, those who have finished the apprenticeship program are competitive applicants for other advanced manufacturers in the area, McGhee said.

“Many of our graduates from the Wacker Institute are currently employed by WPNA,” McGhee said. “Many others have found good jobs with other chemical and process operations manufacturers in the region.”