RLC student lands apprenticeship with North American Lighting

 Kyle Garrison edited

Kyle Garrison of Mt. Vernon decided to enroll in the Pre-Apprenticeship program at Rend Lake College because he wanted to work in manufacturing. Less than three months later, he now works as an apprenticeship at North American Lighting in Salem and will continue to work there after he graduates with his associate's degree. (Click image for printable photo)


INA, Ill. (Sept. 8, 2021) -- This past summer changed Kyle Garrison’s life.

The 37-year-old Mt. Vernon man knew he wanted a new career. He was working in the food industry and he decided to work toward a career in machining. When he learned about the Pre-Apprentice program offered through Rend Lake College, he was hoping for a new direction.

“I first came to Rend Lake to get my certification in machining and something in manufacturing,” Garrison said. “I enjoy numbers and making stuff. It seemed like the right fit for me.”

Before he even completed the program, Garrison was offered an apprentice position at North American Lighting’s Salem facility. Rend Lake College’s 10-week Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship program provided him with the basic skills and knowledge that he could use as he builds his future career. 

Garrison had previously worked for several years in the oil fields. He said he had always wondered about a manufacturing career because he was very meticulous in his work.

“I would get things too exact,” he said. “They would tell me, ‘That is too exact, Kyle. We are not building a piano.’ We are throwing up some ductwork for an ethanol plant.”

During the 10-week pre-apprenticeship program, students toured manufacturing companies in Rend Lake College’s district. They were introduced to careers in manufacturing and were able to see first-hand how manufacturing careers focus on planning, managing, and performing the processing of materials into final products. Students also learned various applications of industrial safety, metal-joining processes used in general industry, construction, and fabrication, and completed employability skills training required for entry into the workforce.

The program provides valuable hands-on training in manufacturing skills as well as life and career preparation through units focused on interpersonal skills, teamwork, mechanical aptitude, problem-solving and decision-making.

Joy Fitts, RLC’s Director of Apprenticeships and CTE Support, said, “The pre-apprenticeship program provides students with an opportunity to gain basic skills and knowledge in manufacturing.  When students finish the 10-week program, they are prepared to enter into a Registered Apprenticeship program with one of our business partners.”  Students are also able to tour local manufacturing facilities so they can see different career opportunities in the area.

“One of the benefits of the pre-apprenticeship program is that students who have never been inside a manufacturing facility get to experience what a career in manufacturing could look like for their future.  They are able to talk with business owners, supervisors and employees about the different jobs in manufacturing, the skills needed to perform those jobs and employer expectations.”    Fitts said. “We also wanted to give students an opportunity to see what manufacturers in our area produce. There are several small manufacturers in Southern Illinois that produce unique items that we use every day and the majority of people living in our community have no idea those items are produced here in southern Illinois.”

North American Lighting has nine facilities across the country and it is the largest automotive lighting manufacturer in North America. The amount of technical skills and the encouragement to pay close attention to detail required for the work was right up Garrison’s alley.

“A lot of the work at North American Lighting is about quality,” he said. “The paint has to be exact when you are mixing it. They are really particular, and I like it.”  Garrison currently is training in the paint department at NAL.

Garrison started his apprenticeship on Aug. 9, and the experience will last three years at which time he will finish his associate’s degree in Industrial Electronics and Maintenance. As part of the apprentice requirements, he will work for the company two years after he finishes his coursework, and he will be compensated at a higher rate of pay based on his education.

“I will be at top pay within four years,” Garrison said. “With the three years of hands-on training and the schooling, it’s a really good deal.”

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity funds the grant that supports the Pre-Apprenticeship program at Rend Lake College.

Rend Lake College and partners, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges and Lake Land College, first received the grant in June 2020. To date, the colleges have been awarded nearly $200,000 to serve registered apprentices and pre-apprentices throughout southern Illinois.

Fitts said preparations are being made to offer the Pre-Apprenticeship program during the Spring 2022 semester.

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