Work-based Learning

Work-based Learning in Natchitoches: The Modern Apprenticeship Model

By Mike Wolff, Director, Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana (MEPOL)
We are told the best way to instill a learned principal is to apply that learning as soon as you can.  When you look at our higher education process, we ask students to spend at least two to four years to obtain a broad education coupled with technical skill development course work.  When all the school work is done, we throw students into the working world with very limited applied experience, if any. 
On the flip side, when high school graduates are considering their future, the higher achievers are encouraged to enroll in a four-year university program while those students with lower test scores are given little direction.  Because of family or neighbor connections, they often end up in local manufacturing facilities.  These days, manufacturing facilities tend to have machines run with advanced technology that requires technical skills to function effectively and safely.
The challenge is how to encourage high achieving students that would like to work right out of high school, yet continue to build and develop their technical and educational skill set and to encourage them to consider manufacturing as a solid career path.  One answer is work-based learning.
In seeking a solid work-based learning program for this region, through the support and direction of the Natchitoches Community Alliance Foundation, the Manufacturing Manager Councils in Northwest and Central Louisiana teamed up to bring in a visionary expert in this field.  In May 2016, Dennis Parker with Toyota spoke at the annual Regional Manufacturing Summit held at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.  Dennis is responsible for Advanced Manufacturing Career Pathways Development with the Toyota North American Production Support Center located in Georgetown, Kentucky. He has been involved with the implementation of the Advanced Manufacturing Technician program in each of the fourteen communities where Toyota has a manufacturing facility in the United States along with four additional community programs.  At the NSU Regional Manufacturing Summit, Dennis presented the elements of the Advanced Manufacturing Technician (AMT) program. 
Following the summit, local manufacturers continued to discuss the merits and benefits of offering such a program in this region.  Dennis was invited back and spoke about the program to a broader audience, including two and four-year college educators at the Higher Education Summit in Alexandria in November 2016.
Local manufacturers Alliance Compressors, Boise Cascade and RoyOMartin partnered with NSU and the Northwest Louisiana Technical College to launch a similar AMT program in this region with the first class kicking off in the Fall 2017.  Specifics of the program include:
  • Two year, five semester program that prepares students for roles in manufacturing that include entry level, multiskilled maintenance technician with training in both electrical and mechanical areas of study.
  • Completers earn an Associate of Science Degree in Engineering Technology from NSU.  This degree, combined with additional technical courses taught by the Northwest Louisiana Technical College (NWLTC) Natchitoches Campus, will result in an AMT Certificate from NWLTC.
  • Course instruction will take place in the Manufacturing Resource Center on the NWLTC Natchitoches Campus in order to simulate the manufacturing setting.
  • Interested students apply through NSU.  Qualified candidates are selected by participating manufacturers – those listed above plus Pilgrims Pride and Stella-Jones -  into the AMT Program.
  • Students selected into the AMT Program attend class full time two days a week and work at their sponsoring manufacturer the other three days.
  • Students are responsible for tuition and fees.  The program course load is usually 15 – 18 credit hours per semester.  Students typically work 24 hours a week at the sponsoring manufacturing facility.
If you are interested in this new work-based learning program either as a student or a manufacturer and would like more information, contact Mike Wolff with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Louisiana at (318) 581-3594 or