When the manufacturing facility for Egger Wood Products opens this fall near Lexington, the the Austria-based company will need more than 300 production workers at its first North American plant.

Plant Manager Mario Bobsin said Egger’s partnership with Davidson County Community College and five other companies to found the Davidson and Davie Apprenticeship Consortium is an indication the company made the right decision to plant its western hemisphere flag here.

Egger currently has a cohort of 11 apprentices working and training on-site in the earn-as-you-learn program, and Corporate Training Manager Michael Holmes told Triad Business Journal he expects the current crop of students to become company leaders as production ramps up.

“The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the new manufacturing environment,” Holmes told TBJ. “This is not the old, dirty, hands-on, stand at the machine all day manufacturing. It’s much more computer-based and systems-based, and they get exposure to everything from pneumatics, hydraulics, and automation.”

The program includes 8,000 hours of contact, 6,400 of them on-site at Egger and the remaining 1,600 in the classroom at DCCC. A dedicated team of trainers leads the apprentices through training as they are immersed in the company’s maintenance program over a four-year period.

As they matriculate through the program, the apprentices earn more each year.

“Wages increase every year as the curriculum becomes more rigorous,” Holmes said. “The second-year apprentices are already working with the installation team on the plant side. Every year, a new class will come in and progress as their pay and seniority grows."

Those who complete the program and become full-time Egger employees will start with all the advantages of an employee with four years of seniority. “They become an integral part of Egger,” added Holmes, “They become our best ambassadors in the community.”

When the first phase of the plant opens this year, Egger will employ approximately 400 combined in the plant and the headquarters office building, which the company occupied in January as plant construction continues. The company plans two more expansions over the next decade or so with plans to eventually employ 770.

That number will include as many as 14 former apprentices graduating the program each year. The apprenticeship model is employed companywide by Egger.

“It’s a proven concept with us,” Bobsin said. “It’s not as dominant here as it is in Europe. We have done this for many years within the entire group. Right now we have approximately 250 apprentices throughout the company. It is something we believe in and we invest in people to give them everything they need to be successful, and our long-term goal is for them to stay with us.”

The program is proving popular. Holmes said the company saw a 50% growth in applications in its second year, and he expects a 200% increase next year. In all, he expects 200 to 300 applications for the next cohort of apprentices consortium-wide.

In addition to Egger, consortium members are BMK AmericasCPM Wolverine Proctor, Ingersoll Rand (NYSE: IR), Kurz Transfer Products and Mohawk Industries (NYSE: MHK).

“From day one, Davidson County Community College has been amazing and very open to working with us and to making this happen, even before we started to put the first crane on this construction site," Bobsin added. "We cannot manage this alone. We can only manage this together with the community.”