KINGMAN - Local machining company Laron, Inc. held a ceremony Friday morning recognizing the first five graduates of its in-house apprenticeship program.
Machinists Jeffrey Edwards, Jeffrey McKowan, Mark Sexton and Paul Nicholson, and millwright William Kroenke received a pair of certificates, one from the state of Arizona and one from the Department of Labor, each recognizing them as a journeyman in their craft. Laron Chief Operating Officer John Hansen also handed each man a Morgan silver dollar dating from the 1880s to the 1920s to commemorate their accomplishment, with the hope that they would stay on with the company for years to come.
"These five guys here that graduate today deserve my respect, and they deserve your respect," Hansen told a small audience of fellow co-workers and family gathered for the event. "We've done something here, I think, in our community that is profound."
The certifications marked the conclusion of a four-year program that saw each applicant spend more than 8,000 hours apiece in the classroom and on the job learning their trade. The program was designed by Hansen, Laron President and CEO Glenn Thoroughman, and former Mohave Community College Kingman Campus President Mike Ford, who was also in attendance at Friday's ceremony.
"We were trying to reach out and do what we could for the community," Ford said. "With the administration's support, we were able to coordinate the program, and today is the realization of that success."
Laron's Apprentice Instructor George Williams said the company had decided to move forward with the program after it had attempted to find qualified local machinists, to no avail. "We started the program because we can't find employees," he said. "There are 60,000 vacant machining jobs in the country right now."
Human Resources Generalist Debbie Staph said the apprentices spent the first two years of their training studying the basics of the craft, starting with a solid safety foundation, then moving into shop math, hand tools and the machining process.
"We actually built the apprentices their own small machine shops so they could practice what they had just learned - we have a dedicated classroom and a computer lab that we built for them," she said. "It's a combination of on-the-job training and on-the-job learning. They did some of the work in the shop, and they did a lot of field jobs and were tested frequently throughout the process."
Having achieved journeyman status, Williams said the five men should expect to have good wages and job security ahead of them, whether they choose to stick with Laron or pursue work elsewhere. Noting that precision machinery is an important component of many industries, he said demand is only likely to grow for skilled tradesmen who know how to construct, repair, refit and install such equipment.
"It should be getting pretty big in the next 10 to 15 years," Williams said. "They've got a long, long, prosperous career in front of all of them."
Friday's graduating class may be Laron's first, but it won't be the last. While the economic downturn forced Laron to temporarily suspend a second group of apprentices in 2008, Hansen said he hopes to begin a new cohort of six new apprentices by January.
Headquartered in the Kingman Airport Industrial Park at 4255 Santa Fe Drive, Laron, Inc. currently employs about 240 people, with branches in Phoenix, Tucson and Salt Lake City.
For more information, call (928) 757-8424.