Building Strategic Partnerships for a Skilled Workforce

Nov 17, 2016

National Apprenticeship Week Enlarge image (© As part of Second Annual National Apprenticeship Week, the embassy hosted U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez for a discussion on Thursday about building strategic partnerships for a skilled workforce.

Discussions included an armchair conversation with Secretary Perez, as well as President and CEO of the U.S. Council for International Business Peter Robinson, President and CEO of Siemens Corporation Eric Spiegel, and President of North America’s Building Trades Union Sean McGarvey. The discussion was moderated by economist Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Insitute. The purpose of the conversation was to compare and contrast German and American approaches towards apprenticeships along with its respective growth opportunities and challenges.

“The success of the German economy would not be possible without vocational training,” stated Ambassador Wittig emphatically during the opening of discussions. He went on to describe that Germany is on a solid growth course due in large part to a population where only 30-40 percent of adults went to college. The rest were trained through apprenticeships, of which there are currently over 300 programs available in Germany. The variation of skills and backgrounds of the German work force has been a contributing factor to Germany experiencing record low unemployment rates of 4.2% this year. Due to a long history of apprenticeships, employers see apprenticeships not as the end of a career, but rather as a solid beginning and a requirement to covering the diverse range of occupational needs in any economy. This investment in employees additionally decreases attrition, which is one of the largest expenses of small and large business alike.

Ambassador Wittig With Secretary of Labor Perez Enlarge image Ambassador Wittig discussed strategic partnerships and trade with U.S. Secretary of Labor Perez. (©

The discussion of esteemed panelists began by laying out a comparison between the German and American markets. Nearly 70% of Americans are now getting a college degree, which has led to many professions such as those in manufacturing, going unfilled. “We need to break the college mandate,” Secretary of Labor Perez said. “There are multiple paths towards prosperity”. He emphasized the need to reduce the stigmatization of learning a trade in the United States and to encourage a system, similar to that of Germany, where American students are offered several paths towards employment starting from childhood.

Siemens President and CEO Eric Spiegel proposed mirroring the German “ecosystem” of training. For an employer, there can be hesitation that it is an unworthy investment to train an employee in a specific trade due to attrition. However, if many businesses in the same sector train their employees, it results in reciprocity and a more qualified general pool of job applicants to choose from.

Though both sides agreed on the need for a diversified workforce and a destigmatization of and investment in employee training programs, challenges range from cultural norms to taxation. There is a benefit in both the United States and Germany to having a highly trained and diverse workforce, be it through college or apprenticeships.


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