As part of the trade-focused first meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump, three CEO’s of German companies and their respective apprentices met with the two leaders to discuss the benefits of the dual system of vocational training.
Benefits of the Dual System
The dual system of vocational training in Germany has an excellent reputation worldwide. With more than 350 recognized training occupations nationwide and 1.5 million trainees, the program has become a disk in the backbone of the German workforce. By combining theory and practice with equal time spent in vocational school and at the place of employment, employees are given a head start in their occupations by exiting their degree with both the required technical knowledge and hands-on experience.
It isn’t trainees alone who benefit from the dual system, nor does the burden fall entirely on companies. First and foremost, the program is structured on financial burden sharing. Private companies bear about 75 percent of costs, while the Federal Employment Agency and the German federal states handle the remaining 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Total cost per trainee lands under 20,000 dollars per person. Though it is a short term investment for employers, it produces employees who are specialized in the technical skills needed to fit their company’s needs and is shown to increase employee retention.
The dual system is not an exclusive option for Germany, and with 3,400 German businesses providing 672,000 jobs in the United States, it is as much in the interest of German employers as American employers to consider the benefits of supporting vocational education stateside. Though investing in the United States is a long maintained and healthy relationship for German businesses, job skills has been identified as a key challenge to their success in the U.S. market.
As such, the key focus of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s first meeting in the White House with President Donald Trump was trade policy. This included a meeting with business people and apprentices in a round-table discussion on skills and vocational training. CEO’s of major German employers in the United States BMW, Siemens, and Schaeffler brought with them exemplary apprentices Marie Davis, Chad Robinson, and Maria Puckett, all of whom have benefited from the German model of vocational training.
Meet the Apprentices
Chad Robinson came to Washington as a representative of the apprenticeship program at Siemens gas turbine plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now an apprentice machinist, Chad said he initially received pushback from family that favored a traditional four year degree. However, when Chad was presented with the offer of a debt-free education and guaranteed end-of-program employment from Siemens, the offer was too good to refuse. Chad plans to continue his education at the end of his apprenticeship, continuing on to get a degree in engineering—a degree that his employer plans to financially support. When asked what he wishes more people knew about working at a plant, Chad said, “I wish they knew that plants or working in a trade isn’t a ‘dirty’ profession. In fact, Siemens is spotless and modern—much cleaner than my room!” He also wanted others to understand that, like any career path, there were as many options for him to work his way up in his field.
Maria Puckett of BMW’s famous Spartanburg, South Carolina facility originally auditioned for American Idol to pursue a music career upon high school graduation. After a friend exposed her to the apprenticeship program at BMW, she learned that she had just as much of an aptitude and passion for technical work. Maria said she loves representing women in a traditionally-male field and that she’d like to reduce the stigma in the United States of receiving a technical education and promote those options to local high schoolers.
Marie Davis of Cheraw, South Carolina came to Schaeffler by way of the U.S. Air Force. After serving for four years, she came home and was accepted into the Schaeffler Apprenticeship Program. The three year program involved both classroom and hands on experience and was completed in conjunction with Northeastern Technical College. Marie said she was originally exposed to the option of vocational training in high school and by an uncle who owns a machine tool company in Illinois. Having always enjoyed working with her hands, the program was a natural fit.
Next Steps for the U.S.
Given time and exposure to alternative career paths, American employers—especially those in manufacturing are likely to find vocational training to be a win-win for employer and employee.