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October 2, 2023 Focus: Manufacturing

Waterbury’s Noujaim Tool Co. highlights importance of apprenticeship programs

HBJ PHOTO | SKYLER FRAZER Selim Noujaim, executive vice president of Noujaim Tool Co., provides a tour of the Waterbury manufacturer’s shop floor.
Click below for more information about Noujaim Tool Co.
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In business for almost 40 years, Noujaim Tool Co. in Waterbury has established itself as one of the model companies for Connecticut’s apprenticeship program.

Noujaim Tool, located at 412 Chase River Road, has enrolled 19 apprentices since 1988, with four future employees currently working to fulfill their 8,000-hour apprenticeship requirement.

Executive Vice President Selim Noujaim said training and hiring the future workforce is crucial to small- and medium-sized manufacturers. He touts the state’s apprenticeship program as an effective way to do that.

“We don’t just hire people and throw them at a machine,” Noujaim said. “I fully believe that the trade of leadership is to help people better themselves, and I personally always try to do that.”

Repeat success

Noujaim’s long-term use of apprenticeships runs right through his company’s roots. He first moved to the United States from Lebanon in 1971, and six years later he brought his brother, Joseph Noujaim, to the country.

Back in Lebanon, Joseph Noujaim was an apprentice-then-journeyman tool- and die-maker, so it was a natural step for him to continue that in the U.S. The two bought a used CNC machine in Prospect for $3,200, put it in a family member’s garage, and got to work.

Eventually, the brothers grew their operation and founded Noujaim Tool Co. in 1985. The company makes fixtures, tools and precision parts for defense, medical and automotive industries, among others.

Joseph Noujaim serves as president.

“My brother Joe is the backbone of the company because he’s a technical expert,” Selim Noujaim said. “He would say to me, ‘leave me in the shop, and you do everything else,’ so I do sales and everything else, but he just loves the machines.”

The company has moved locations a few times to accommodate growth. Its current headquarters occupies almost 25,000 square feet between two neighboring buildings.

Noujaim Tool currently has 34 full-time employees, and everyone who has completed the company’s apprenticeship program has been hired. Even Joseph Noujaim’s son, George Noujaim, has gone through the apprenticeship program at his family’s company.

“They’re guaranteed employment,” Selim Noujaim said. “They are our future.”

Promoting the program

The state’s formal apprenticeship training program for manufacturers is run through the Department of Labor.

More than 1,750 employers are registered for it, with an average of about 6,400 apprentices active in a given year, according to state DOL data from the last five years. Those numbers represent an increase from the end of 2019, when the DOL said about 1,000 companies were enrolled employing 6,000 apprentices.

About 5,000 employers have utilized the state’s formal apprenticeship program over the last 10 years, DOL figures show.

Noujaim, a former state lawmaker, said Connecticut needs to do a better job marketing its apprenticeship program to local companies, particularly manufacturers that are struggling to find workers.

The state currently has about 92,000 unfilled jobs, many of them in manufacturing.

“If I have advice to the state Department of Labor it’s to promote the program,” Noujaim said. “There is a need out there for apprenticeships, companies just need to know what’s available.”

Through the program, companies can receive up to a $7,500 annual wage reimbursement tax credit, per apprentice. In addition, legislators in 2018 established the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative that aimed to develop workforce pipelines and train workers for job placement.

The General Assembly authorized up to $50 million in funding for workforce-related partners across the state to help with the initiative. So far, $15 million has been allocated through the state Bond Commission.

Like many manufacturers in the state, Noujaim said his company has a few unfilled positions that could be filled through apprenticeships.

“Quite honestly, we need skilled toolmakers, and because skilled toolmakers are not available, we turn to the apprenticeship training program,” Noujaim said.

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