Anthony Balducci has worked at Pratt Industries for four years, but it’s only been since August that he took on the title of “apprentice.” Now he’s learning — on the job, but also in classes at Metropolitan Community College — while he’s earning.
MCC’s skilled trades apprenticeship program started this semester with eight apprentices in four local businesses. Balducci, 29, is the only MCC apprentice at Pratt’s Kansas City plant, which makes corrugated boxes and displays using cardboard sourced from 100 percent recycled paper. The packages that hold Boulevard Brewing Co. beer? Pratt makes those.
Balducci, who lives in Peculiar, Mo., started at Pratt driving a forklift and worked his way up to operator of one of the plant’s six major machines. He is now a Level 1 mechanical technician, but over his four-year apprenticeship he should work his way up to Level 3, which would put him in one of the higher-paying positions on the floor.
“I’ve always been able to fix stuff with my hands and work on things,” he says.
As he continues to work full time at the plant, he is also taking two courses a semester at MCC. He’ll start technology classes at the MCC-Business & Technology campus in January. Not only does his company pay his tuition, but it also supports him with in-house subject matter experts. The math class he’s taking right now? A couple of his co-workers are available to help if he gets stuck.
Meanwhile, Balducci will earn academic credentials as he progresses through his coursework, including an MCC associate in applied science degree at the end.
He says he always wanted to go to college but wasn’t sure what he should study. Now, although he has a lot on his plate — work, school, a wife and two sons — he knows he’s building a better future, not just for himself but for his boys, too.
“I want them to have a little better life than I did growing up,” he says.
His employer, meanwhile, sees the value of investing in employees. Companies needing to hire skilled workers can wait for prospective employees to come to them, but sometimes it makes more sense to identify people already working there who could benefit from education and training.
Pratt Industries “wants to show employees there are opportunities to grow within the company,” says Robert Pearson, human resources manager for the KC plant.
“From Day 1, Robert has been very bullish on educating his folks” about the value of upskilling, says Shonda Atwater, MCC’s apprenticeship outreach director.
Pearson describes Balducci as smart and dedicated with a strong work ethic. “He’s truly embraced it,” he says of the apprenticeship.
“He had that drive to do more and be part of the organization and learn,” says Jerry O’Connor, who oversees production and maintenance at the plant.
The company “recognizes good work and lets you know,” Balducci says.
Meanwhile, the new apprentice is excited about the prospect of earning a college degree, too. “I want it — it’s mine,” he says. “If that’s what’s offered to me, I’m going to take it.”
MCC’s Atwater calls apprenticeships “the gold standard for workforce training.”
“Engaging our current workforce, and especially the millennial generation, will require an experiential learning process,” she says. “As a region, we must be creative and aggressive if we are to expand economic growth.”
For more information about Metropolitan Community College’s skilled trades apprenticeship program — which includes tool and die, maintenance mechanic and welding positions, with more on the way — visit mcckc.edu/programs/apprenticeships or email Shonda.Atwater@mcckc.edu.