Keesler Federal Credit Union: Adding Value to Mississippi’s Workforce

Keesler Federal Credit Union and MAP Celebrate the Graduating Apprenticeship Class of 2020

The Registered Apprenticeship (RA) program at Keesler Federal Credit Union (Keesler) creates career advancement opportunities for its employees using a unique approach to learning that is the first-of-its-kind for the financial sector in Mississippi. The program, which launched in 2018 in partnership with the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program (MAP) and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), provides current employees with hands-on-training and online courses that prepare them to take on more responsibility at Keesler. 

Leslie Harvey has worked for Keesler for more than ten years. She began her career as a teller and received several promotions during her tenure. Most recently, Harvey took on a new role as branch manager, which she connects to her completing the apprenticeship program. 

“I was an assistant manager when I started,” Harvey says. “The program taught me a lot about professionalism. I learned how to revamp my resume and participate in job interviews, which in turn helped me interview other people better as well as serve as a mentor for other team members who wanted to learn the same skills.”

The credit union offers bonuses and raises to employees who complete the program. According to Harvey, the program demonstrates how Keesler gives back to its employees and helps them develop. All nine of the participants who graduated from the program received promotions. “It really is proof that doing the hard work and going through that program did make a difference in my career.”

Harvey said the most rewarding part of the program is achieving one of her longtime goals. “Complete the full two years, to get a raise and become a branch manager, which is something I’ve always worked toward in the ten years I’ve been here, and to see it pay off is probably the best part. It was also great to see a group of us from different departments learn from each other.” 

Apprentices are not the only ones to benefit from a RA program. Companies can experience some perks too. Many apprentices become more loyal to an organization after participating in a program, which leads to lower turnover rates and ultimately positively impacts the organization’s bottom-line.“I’m a lifer,” says Harvey. “They are going to have to make me retire after 20 years, and then I’ll probably apply for a receptionist gig.”

Harvey now encourages other team members to participate in the program. “Two-years feels like a long time, but once you get done with each class, and you can see actual, real results, it is so worth it. It’s made me a better leader.”

To learn more about how you can launch an RA program, visit our employer’s page

MGCCC and Halter Marine launch shipbuilding apprenticeship program

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College News Release

MGCCC and Halter Marine launch shipbuilding apprenticeship program

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Halter Marine held an Apprenticeship Orientation Session on September 1 at Halter Marine in Pascagoula. Fifty shipbuilding apprentices began the program, with 10 in each of five programs that include electrical, welding, pipe welding, ship fitting, and pipefitting.  

With the exception of pipe welding, each of the Apprenticeship programs is four years in length and consists of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 576 classroom hours.  Pipe welding is three years, with 6,000 hours of on-the-job-training and 432 classroom hours.

The apprentices are following Maritime Technology curriculum approved by the Mississippi Community College Board.  The curriculum comprises 10 – 12 classes in support of their craft, plus management/leadership classes.  The classes are being taught as noncredit, workforce classes, but the apprentices will have the opportunity to convert their noncredit classes into credit through competency-based exams (CBE).

The apprenticeship program is a new workforce-training model for Halter Marine to ensure consistent high-quality shipbuilders, enabling Halter Marine to successfully pursue federal shipbuilding contracts.  

“Halter plans to begin new Cohorts of Registered Apprentices each fall for several years,” said Gayle Brown, MGCCC grants and special projects developer. “Additionally, six other crafts have been approved by the Department of Labor for Halter to apprentice, so when Halter is ready, the college will stand up those programs as well.”

Brown said Gulf Coast is already working with other companies to provide apprenticeship programs. 

“Keesler Federal Credit Union started their third cohort of Branch Manager Apprentices this fall with nine,” she said.  “F.E.B. Distributing has plans for additional Commercial Truck Driving apprentices in the future.”

Photo: Apprentices begin their first day of training with an orientation session at Halter Marine in Pascagoula.  A partnership between Halter Marine and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, the apprenticeship program has 10 apprentices in five craft areas that will provide quality shipbuilders for the company.

Keesler Federal Credit Union: How Self-Improvements Advance Careers

Nacol Olson-Palmer always believed in the value of continuous learning and self-improvement to help her advance in her career. Nacol joined the team at Kessler Federal Credit Union (KFCU) over 14 years ago as a teller and eventually worked her way to a head teller, financial service representative, and loan officer. For the past five years, she has served as a branch manager. Nacol’s commitment to continual improvement is what motivated her to join the first cohort of KFCU’s Branch Manager Apprenticeship Program when the program launched in the summer of 2018.

KFCU worked closely with the workforce training and education team at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, a Mississippi Apprenticeship Program partner, to design the two-year program that provides 4,000 hours of on the job training. Apprentices receive an additional 325 hours of online related technical training, which makes the program accessible to KFCU employees in multiple states. The online program also makes it possible for apprentices to complete the courses after hours.

The first cohort included 18 apprentices—nine employees and nine branch managers. These managers decided to participate in the training so they could better support and serve as mentors for their colleagues who had goals of achieving a branch manager position. Additionally, these managers wanted to refresh their knowledge and grow in their careers.

The first cohort graduated from the program in December of 2018. After completing the program, Nacol has put what she learned to use not only for herself but also for her team. “I believe the apprenticeship program has helped me a great deal. I have used the skills I have learned to communicate better verbally and in writing. I have helped my team with their goals by assisting them with cover letter and resume writing. They appreciate the time and commitment I gave to their career.

The Branch Manager Apprenticeship Program also inspired Nacol to take a different approach to career growth. “The program has helped me get my foot back in the door to advancing my education. To this point, I have advanced my career with hard work, cross-training, and non-traditional forms of education. It has given me the push I need to go back to college.”

The success of the first cohort demonstrated the need for and value of the program. In 2019, the credit union launched its second cohort with 10 participants, and KFCU plans to continue using the apprenticeship model to strengthen their talent pipeline and develop managers within their current workforce. This proven workforce development tool, as evident in KFCU’s program, benefits both the employer and the employees. According to Nacol, “This program has given me a sense of accomplishment, and I feel valued by Keesler Federal Credit Union. They took the time to develop a program that would help me as well as others. I am excited to see what the future holds for me.”

If you are interested in designing and implementing an apprenticeship program for your company, you can email for more information.

MGCCC partnership with Halter Marine will create apprentice program

Authored by: John Fitzhugh

Getting paid to learn would be every student’s dream.

A new apprenticeship program between Halter Marine and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College creates that opportunity.

The program will begin in the fall with 25 students in each of the five fields. Eventually, it will expand to 11 fields.

When Halter Marine in Pascagoula signed a contract to build two icebreakers for the U.S. Coast Guard, it created the need for a larger workforce.

It also created the opportunity for this new partnership.

“The apprenticeship program will directly tie in because it will custom train individuals for the fields that we need in order to produce the Polar Security Cutters,” said Ron Baczkowski, CEO of Halter Marine.

The first programs will be in ship fitting, welding, pipefitting, pipe welding and electrical.

The two organizations signed the agreement in a ceremony at the shipyard on Friday.

“The great thing about this partnership is these students are being paid by VT Halter Marine because they are productive employees,” said Jonathan Woodward, Executive Vice President of Teaching, Learning and Community Campus for MGCCC. “So, in the end, it reduces the cost for the students while they are earning a livable wage.

“This really puts the pieces of the puzzle together of workforce needs and educational relevance.”

This expansion of the trained workforce will help more than just Halter Marine, according to Baczkowski.

“It’s not just one shipyard that benefits; it’s many. So when we build a workforce, it has the portable skills that can go to any of the marine industries or shipyards across the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said.

Using an apprenticeship program is not a new concept, but it is one that is making a comeback for job training.

“Apprenticeship is the way forward, for not just shipbuilding, but many other industries across the Coast,” Woodward said. “We’re already doing it in the banking industry, hospitality is upcoming. So really any industry that wants to ensure great training needs to begin to look at, if they’re not already, apprenticeship models.”

We can discuss a photo image for the story. There’s not a photo attached to the link. I was thinking of both the MGCCC logo and the Halter Marine logo in one photo. Let me know what you think.

Link to original post:

hago Automotive: Getting Youth on the Road to a Bright Future

Manufacturing companies across the U.S. are turning to automation to streamline and increase production, improve quality, reduce manufacturing times, and create safer work environments. As manufacturing companies change their work modules, the skills needed to fill positions are also evolving. “As a company, we are not a mechanical company anymore,” said Alfred Geiger, CEO of hago Automotive in Iuka, Mississippi. “We are almost like an IT environment where we have to be able to creatively find solutions to problems and then apply a combination of the mechanics, electronics, IT, and robotics to it all.”

While automation is helping manufacturers become more productive, industry leaders say it is increasingly more challenging to recruit the highly skilled workforce needed to install, operate, and maintain robotics production systems. To meet their demand for a highly-skilled workforce, hago partnered with the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program and Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC) to launch a youth apprenticeship program.

The program is designed for high school students and young adults ages 16 to 23, according to Cheri Hemlinger, executive assistant at hago and program administrator for the youth apprenticeship program. According to Hemlinger, young people spend the first two to three months of the program shadowing an employee in one of three areas, including industrial maintenance, tool and die, or quality engineering. After the shadowing portion of the program is complete, students enroll in courses at NEMCC to continue their four-year apprenticeship training. Students’ curriculum is split in two days at college and another three days working alongside skilled employees at hago where they receive the support of a mentor and other department trainers. “Department trainers work specifically with students and NEMCC to tailor their learning to ensure they get on-the-job training that supports what they learn in the classroom,” said Hemlinger.

The company’s financial commitment, in combination with funding from a variety of local, state, and federal sources, allows students to attend NEMCC at no cost. The students also earn wages while working for hago and learning first-hand what it takes to be successful in a job with the company. After completing the program, they will graduate with a registered apprenticeship and a minimum of an associate degree. “Simple manufacturing jobs are going away and being replaced with jobs that require a higher qualification that cannot be taught at universities,” said Geiger. “You have to have hands-on training that brings mechanical and college knowledge together.”

The four-year program launched in May 2019 with three apprentices. The company plans to add three more apprentices each year. Even though the program is new for the Iuka plant, Geiger says Germany-based hago has over 40 years of experience managing a successful apprenticeship program. The company has more than 75 apprentices enrolled in the program in Germany.

In addition to helping to close the skills gap at the plant in Iuka, Geiger says youth apprenticeship programs have other benefits. “We can train youth to the precise needs of our company and develop them to become the highly qualified employees we need for years to come.”

Geiger says the apprenticeship program is a win-win for businesses and apprentices, especially youth looking for a stable career path. “It’s important for everyone to look into the apprenticeship program as a real alternative to college. If I look at what we pay our top maintenance and tool and die technicians, an apprenticeship can really open the way for a young person, who might not be interested in college, to have a successful alternative career path and make a very good living.”

MGCCC and Keesler Credit Union Banking Apprenticeship Program

Surrounded by college and Keesler Federal Credit Union personnel, MGCCC president Dr. Mary S. Graham and Andy Swoger, Keesler Federal’s CEO and president, sign an agreement for the new Bank Branch Manager Apprenticeship Program during a ceremony on Wednesday, February 6, at the college’s Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center in Gulfport. Nineteen Keesler Federal employees have already begun training in the program.

In 2019, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) and Keesler Federal Credit Union launched an apprenticeship program that provides training to current credit union employees who want to gain the skills and experience needed to advance their careers. Gayle Brown, a workforce and grants developer with MGCCC, helped Keesler design the Bank Branch Manager Apprenticeship Program, which is the first financial-industry registered apprenticeship (RA) program in Mississippi and the only online RA program in the state.

Brown said when she approached Keesler CEO Andy Swoger, she originally pitched the idea of a program to provide training to tellers and other entry-level employees. However, Swoger wanted to focus on mid-level managers who had a desire to grow and advance in the organization. Swoger also wanted a program that would allow Keesler employees in other parts of the country and around the world to participate. Brown worked with MGCCC professors to develop an online program that employees could complete at night and on the weekends while they continued to work at the bank.

There were 19 Keesler employees to participate in the first apprenticeship cohort, including nine branch managers who wanted to refresh their skills and learn what the potential new managers were learning. “For veteran employees, it’s something special because they have been there already, and this is recognizing they are a valued employee,” said Brown.

Apprentices have to complete seven courses and ten hours of on-the-job training. Keesler offers bonuses or raises to employees who complete the program.

Brown said she has had other banks approach her about starting programs for their employees because they recognize the benefits of growing a talented workforce. “Employers are excited. It’s a different way to do things. We are offering a workforce solution that is a win-win for everyone. It benefits the employer because they get a good return on investment. They’re creating loyalty. They’re passing on their knowledge. They’re showing the employee that they value them because they are investing money and time in them.”

In addition to the benefits for employers, Brown said the program offers significant benefits for apprentices. “For the students, it’s a win-win for them because they don’t have to pay for anything. It’s debt-free for them. Millennials like that you’re offering a program where they can receive mentorship, where someone is going to work with them, teach them, single them out for their skill set, and they feel rewarded.”

According to Brown, the program has been extremely successful, and the college has plans to expand the apprenticeship offerings to other industries such as truck driving and shipbuilding.

Women in Construction

Women In Construction (WinC) emerged from the need to rebuild the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

WinC is a pre-apprenticeship job training program of Moore Community House in Biloxi, MS and has been serving the women and communities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast for more than a decade. Since 2008, the program has trained over 500 women, with 75% of graduates moving on to job placement or advanced training programs.

WinC now provides nearly 180 women per year with the skills and industry-recognized credentials needed to prepare for a career in the trades through an eight-week, full time, intensive course. Program participants receive both classroom and on-the-job training by working onsite at a building project in the community. By the time participants complete the program, they have built a complete structure from the ground up.

Through funds provided by the U.S. Dept. of Labor and the Mississippi Department of Human Services, WinC is one of the only programs in the U.S. that offers both pre-apprenticeship and childcare services, and theirs has become the national model for workforce training and childcare services operating in tandem. WinC also provides trainees with transportation stipends, classes on topics from time management as a working parent to workers’ rights, and comprehensive case management to break down as many barriers to women getting to work as possible.

Graduates of WinC’s program often enter apprenticeship programs or work for companies such as Ingalls Shipbuilding, Chevron, and Mississippi Power.

With less than three percent of women working in the trades, WinC is introducing women to new career options. “The workforce is missing out on amazing, hardworking women,” said program director Julie Kuklinski. “These are women with tons of talent who can really get into the workforce [and] change the industry, and we’re excited to help do that.”

Kuklinski also advises industry leaders, community colleges, and trainers to reach out to WinC for help recruiting women for trade occupations and apprenticeships. She says WinC can serve as a valuable resource for getting women with the training necessary to fill trade and advanced manufacturing positions into an organization’s employment pipeline.

Kuklinski says that while helping women find meaningful, family-sustaining careers is an important part of the organization’s mission, WinC also provides a greater benefit to the women who complete the program. “A lot of women come in with a lack of confidence in themselves or know that they aren’t getting paid what they’re worth, and by the end, they really gain the confidence to join the workforce and get out there.”

Updated December 11, 2018

For additional information about the Mississippi Apprenticeship Program and Registered Apprenticeship, please visit

Ingalls Shipbuilding: Sailing into Successful Careers

Ingalls Shipbuilding, Huntington-Ingalls Industries

Ingalls Shipbuilding, Mississippi’s chief manufacturing employer, spans more than 800 acres of coastal land in Pascagoula. For more than half a century, Ingalls has offered Registered Apprenticeships, and currently, the company has 800 apprentices enrolled in one of its 15 shipyard-training programs, which include welding, sheet metal work, carpentry, and electrical training.

Many of Ingalls’ projects–work that includes manufacturing vessels for the United States Navy and Coast Guard–take years to complete and require hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of hands, throughout the manufacturing process to ensure the ships meet the federal government’s rigorous safety and quality standards.

Garry Mercer, manager of workforce development and apprenticeship at Ingalls, says the company receives about seven thousand applications for apprentices yearly. Of the more than 1,600 total apprenticeship program graduates, about half have stayed on at Ingalls, some of whom have worked their way into management and professional development.

Ingalls apprentices begin as an employee from day one, earning a living wage and full benefits. Through participation in 12 weeks of training and weekly technical instruction classes, apprentices earn college credits toward an associate degree in Maritime Technology. Ingalls partnered with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to offer the degree program in 2014, and over the past few years, other colleges in the area have added similar college credit options for apprentices.

Mercer emphasized the importance of investing in the future of Mississippi through programs like Registered Apprenticeship. Often, young people leave the state to find better jobs, but he says with Ingalls, there is room to grow and build a good life right here in the Mississippi.

“We go the extra mile on our apprenticeships because we believe that’s the future of our company,” says Mercer. “We know from history that those [Registered Apprenticeship] graduates are going to stay with us and build a career. That’s what we want. We want people to stay in Mississippi long term and have great careers.”

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