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OM in the News: Germany Exports Jobs Training to the US

June 20, 2012

Germany’s transplant-factories, like the sprawling VW complex in Chattanooga, aren’t just cranking out cars, machinery and chemicals. They are also bringing, writes The Wall Street Journal (June 14, 2012), a German training system that could help narrow America’s skilled labor gap. VW, which will graduate its first class of U.S. apprentices next year, is one of dozens of companies introducing training that combine German-style apprenticeships and vocational schooling.

These programs are winning adherents as manufacturers grapple with a paradox: Though unemployment remains stuck above 8%, companies can’t find enough machinists, robotics specialists and other highly skilled workers to maintain their factory floors. An estimated 600,000 skilled, middle-class manufacturing jobs remain unfilled nationwide, even as millions of Americans search for work.

“In the U.S. we’ve evolved to the point where we think the only thing people should strive for is a four-year college education, and factory work is seen as dirty, dangerous and repetitive,” says the director of the Aspen Institute’s Manufacturing and Society program. “In Germany, the work that is done on the factory floor and prepared by its vocational education system is highly valued.”

In Germany, 2/3 of the country’s workers are trained through partnerships among companies, technical schools and trade guilds. Last year, German companies took on and trained nearly 600,000 paid apprentices. In the U.S., such close cooperation doesn’t often exist. One stumbling block has been companies’ fear of spending on training, only to see apprentices go elsewhere. Siemens spends approximately $165,000 an apprentice in its new three-year mechatronics training program in Charlotte.  VW warns that without training its own skilled workers, it will struggle to expand: As it ramped up production this year, it needed a nationwide advertising campaign to fill 100 of the more specialized new jobs at the Chattanooga plant.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is VW willing to invest so much money in an apprentice?

2. Why are these programs more popular in Germany than in the US?

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2012 7:19 pm

    In the US we inherited the British point of view, or way of thinking. In that world view, managers came from the upper classes and went to college. Workers came from the lower classes and went to vocational training and then the shop floor. That is not the way the Germans and other northern Europeans think. To them, you can learn best when the learning is situated in doing, that is the way to get to excellent performance. 70% of German managers in mfg went on to engineering PhD degrees but started as young apprentices in that system. This system is not restricted to manufacturing, but to most industry sectors. For example, the head of Deutsche Bank started as an “apprentice.” Apprenticeship is seen as a way to the top. In the US it’s pretty much the opposite.

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