A perfect storm was brewing at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center — hundreds of job openings to fill, few qualified applicants to fill them, many current employees nearing retirement — and the gathering tempest was raising concerns about patient care.

While apprenticeships have been around for generations, today they are taking on new meaning for companies looking to hire workers and pay for them to obtain the education and skills that traditionally were obtained in a two- or four-year school.

GW Plastics in Bethel was experiencing many of the same problems DHMC was in finding skilled workers. Rather than hope the right candidate applies for a job opening, GW Plastics has developed programs aimed at attracting new employees and helping existing employees advance their careers.

These include an in-house apprenticeship program for molding, automation and toolmaking technology. Coursework, offered through Vermont Technical College, gives existing employees the opportunity to enroll in its Manufacturing Technology Leadership program and obtain an associate degree in mechanical engineering over a period of four years with 100 percent of the tuition paid for by GW Plastics.

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