When Jacob Pierzyna and Zachary Melin walk with their fellow students at Dunwoody College of Technology on May 17, they will be the first students to graduate in partnership with a new Ardent Mills apprenticeship program. Jacob and Zach will continue working with Ardent Mills until early fall to complete the on-the-job hours required for apprenticeship certificates. Next: they will be ready for their professional milling careers.
According to U.S. Department of Education, people with technical educations are more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, and they are significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study. What’s more: The two apprentices will enter their careers free of school loans. These “apprenticeship advantages” are part of what motivated Brad Allen, vice president and operations lead, Ardent Mills, and Ted Korolchuk, technical fellow, Ardent Mills, to launch an apprenticeship program at two community mills. Another motivation was the need for skilled millers.
“We worked with Buhler Industries Inc., a company that already had experience starting an apprenticeship with Dunwoody, to adapt their program for our apprentices,” explains Christy Ball, talent and skills development analyst, Ardent Mills. “Jacob and Zach took not-for-credit courses and completed on the job training in flour milling to earn Certificates of Apprenticeship from the Minnesota department of Labor and Industry.”
Ardent Mills reached out to area high school guidance counselors and local leaders with the National FFA Organization, formerly known as Future Farmers of America, to identify candidates who were bright, eager and ready to “roll up their sleeves.” Both Jacob and Zach fit the bill.
“Jacob has been a sponge for knowledge from day one,” reports Bobby Blaser, plant manager at Ardent Mills Lake City community mill. “He excels in our world because of his keen analytical sense and strong mechanical aptitude. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching him grow in the team environment as well as sharpen his communication and leadership skills.”
Blaser also explains that Ardent Mills’ new apprenticeship has provided learning experiences for everyone involved, not just the students. “The apprenticeship program has helped accelerate the growth process for key individuals in our plant,” Blaser says. “In turn, this helps to fill a much-needed role through technical knowledge, growth, and aspirational leadership to enable us to reach our goals.”
At Ardent Mills Rush City community mill, Zach Melin also gets excellent reviews. “He is driven and eager to learn,” says Tyler Adair, head miller. “He got inside our mill and got hands-on learning supported by Dunwoody coursework. Being in a mill is the best way to learn the job. He sought challenges and reached outside his comfort zone.”
“Any of our mills will be lucky to have Jacob and Zach on board, and we are hopeful that we can continue this type of partnership to get more people interested in milling jobs,” says Ball.