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OM in the News and Video Tip: Factory Apprenticeship Is Latest Model From Germany

December 2, 2013
BMW's plant in S.C. employs 7,000

BMW’s plant in S.C. employs 7,000

For Joerg Klisch, hiring the first 60 workers to build heavy engines at his company’s new factory in South Carolina was easy, writes The New York Times (Dec. 1, 2013). Finding the next 60 was not so simple. “It seemed like we had sucked up everybody who knew about diesel engines,” said Klisch. So he did what he would have done back home in Germany: he set out to train them himself. Working with local high schools and a career center in Aiken County, S.C.—and a curriculum nearly identical to the one at the company’s German headquarters–Klisch now has 9 juniors and seniors enrolled in its apprenticeship program.

Inspired by a partnership between schools and industry that is seen as a key to Germany’s advanced industrial capability and relatively low unemployment rate, projects like this one are practically unheard of in the United States. But experts in government and academia, along with those inside companies like BMW, which has its only American factory in S.C., say apprenticeships are a desperately needed option for younger workers who want decent paying jobs, or increasingly, any job at all. And without more programs like Klisch’s, they maintain that the nascent recovery in American manufacturing will run out of steam for lack of qualified workers.

“As a nation, over the course of the last couple of decades, we have regrettably and mistakenly devalued apprenticeships and training,” said Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor. But S.C.’s emphasis on job training has also been a major calling card overseas. The state lured BMW here 2 decades ago and more recently persuaded France’s Michelin and Germany’s Continental Tire to expand in the state. Apprenticeship Carolina started in 2007 with 777 students at 90 companies. It now has 4,500 students at more than 600 companies and aims to add 1,400 more companies by 2020.

The New York Times article link contains an excellent 3 minute video clip, called “Creating Skilled Workers,” that you may wish to show in class.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. How do such programs affect productivity? (See pages 15-17 in Chapter 1).

2. Why are there so few apprenticeship programs in the US?

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