by Kate Shunney
By the time students at Mellott Tech make it to the classroom portion of their training program every day, their hands have already been busy learning the ins and outs of a real-life job that could be theirs for the taking.
Mellott Company of Warfordsburg, Pa. is just a few months into the training effort, which is open to local high school and vocational students who qualify.
Mellott just marked their 100th year in business in 2021, and the company isn’t slowing down. Their growth from a regional quarry business to an equipment supplier and leader in the aggregate industry has posed a special challenge – how to hire and train enough employees to keep up with demand for and maintenance of quarry machinery.
The company has always offered training to their new hires on the specialty work involved in building and operating hefty quarry equipment, said training supervisor Les Morris.
This year, they opened up a new pathway to attracting qualified employees – offering on-the-job and classroom training to high schoolers.
Morris, the company’s new technical trainer, is spearheading the program with the help of seasoned welders, engineers and technicians.
He and other company officials have visited area high schools, hosted tours of Mellott operations in Warfordsburg, and reached out to educators to shape a nine-month training program.
Right now, eight students are part of the training program. Two are students from Berkeley Springs High School, one student comes from McConnellsburg and five students are enrolled in Southern Fulton High School. Another trainee is a full-time employee at Mellott Company who is a recent graduate.
Five of the trainees are following a Service Technician track, learning how to maintain and repair Mellott Company equipment operating at quarries and aggregate sites across the U.S.
The other four are training to be Welders/Fabricators, learning how to cut, assemble and weld custom steel structures that are built for quarries, construction operations, highway paving projects and industrial sites.
Monday through Thursday, the young men come to the Mellott Company and spend two hours doing hands-on training and two hours of academic learning. On Fridays, the students spend all four hours in hands-on work.
Morris said he and the other instructors reinforce the idea that the academic side of the training supports the students’ hands-on work.
In the company classroom, students face a smartboard screen that links them to online classes or shows information from mentors who help train them.
Students take a schedule of courses from ToolingU – an online manufacturing training organization. They’ll complete classes like Blueprint Reading, Introduction to Welding, Intro to Fluid Systems for hydraulics, Electrical Safety, Arc Flash Safety, Automation, Lifting and Moving Equipment, Basic Measurement, Rigging Inspection and Safety, and more.
A look inside real work
Willie Nutter, a 2021 graduate of Berkeley Springs High School, is taking the Service Tech training in hopes of learning the skills needed to have a job that will allow him to travel to different places.
“I like learning new things,” said Nutter. “I get to be hands-on. Everybody is really nice and explains things,” he said.
Nutter said unlike some classes in technical school, the training at Mellott Tech has a direct connection to a job in real time.
“This shows you what it’s actually going to be in the real world,” he said.
Noah Paul said he, too, likes the hands-on training that will be used right on the job.
In early November, Morris took his Tech students to a quarry in Porter, Pa. where they got to see Mellott Company machinery in use at a working mine.
Students said it was cool to see equipment in action.
“We’ve seen them build those,” they said of the aggregate equipment.
Mentoring the next generation
Matt Sweitzer, Process Engineer for Mellott Company, has helped Morris shepherd the training program into existence. He said the company has experienced, knowledgeable employees who are great teachers for anyone willing to learn from them.
“Young people should want to work here. These guys really know what they’re doing,” he said.
Pointing to a busy fabrication floor, where steel is measured, cut and assembled into units the size of small vans, Sweitzer said students learn all aspects of the Mellott operation from experts in the company.
“This stuff isn’t taught in a book,” he said.
Perry Schooley, welding supervisor for Mellott Company, said good workers are needed in their field. Even students who are trained as welders at tech school still have to learn how Mellott makes their custom components, how they are assembled and finished. Schooley has been with Mellott for 11 years. He said the company needs more workers who “show up, do the job and have the capacity to learn.”
Kegan Zeger, another company welder, said he got into the field because he was intrigued by welding at an early age. At Mellott, the work stays interesting, since every project is custom.
Having mentors for the trainees is an important part of the Mellott program, said Morris. Not only do the mentors share their professional knowledge, they also shepherd the young people as they learn to become employees and adults.
Trainees are taught how an interview is run, how an employee evaluation will go, and even how to plan for their financial future.
“The mentor program is an important part of that,” said Morris.
At the end of nine months, students who complete the program will be offered a job at a set hourly rate, with the opportunity to raise that wage as they master more skills.
“This is something that hits on a national problem – we don’t have skilled labor. We’re not seeing kids banging down the door wanting to do manual labor,” said Morris.
The preparation Mellott Company will give the trainees is transferable anywhere in the aggregate industry, Morris said. The young men will be able to work where they like in an industry that’s going strong. It’s the company’s hope they’ll decide to stay with Mellott as their career takes off.