#462. Where Factory Apprenticeship is Latest Model From GermanyPosted on | The Agurban
The following story caught our eye, as much for its title as where it’s from – Greer, SC. We recently purchased an industrial building in Greer, and signed a long-term lease with Michelin. We are seeing activity in the Southeastern U.S. continuing to grow. The article below provides an interesting idea to meet the challenges of finding qualified labor.
Where Factory Apprenticeship Is Latest Model From Germany
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ
GREER, S.C. — For Joerg Klisch, hiring the first 60 workers to build heavy engines at his company’s new factory in South Carolina was easy. Finding the next 60 was not so simple.
“It seemed like we had sucked up everybody who knew about diesel engines,” said Mr. Klisch, vice president for North American operations of Tognum America. “It wasn’t working as we had planned.”
So Mr. Klisch did what he would have done back home in Germany: He set out to train them himself. Working with five local high schools and a career center in Aiken County, S.C. — and a curriculum nearly identical to the one at the company’s headquarters in Friedrichshafen — Tognum now has nine 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 the one at Tognum 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 South Carolina, 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 the one at Tognum, they maintain, the nascent recovery in American manufacturing will run out of steam for lack of qualified workers.
Despite South Carolina’s progress and the public support for apprenticeships, since 2008, the number of apprentices has fallen by nearly 40 percent, according to the Center for American Progress study.
“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. “We need to change that.”
In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.
If there is a downside to the German system, it is that it can be inflexible, because a person trained in a specific skill may find it difficult to switch vocations if demand shifts.
In South Carolina, apprenticeships are mainly funded by employers, but the state introduced a four-year, annual tax credit of $1,000 per position in 2007 that proved to be a boon for small- to medium-size companies. The Center for American Progress report recommends a similar credit nationwide that would rise to $2,000 for apprentices under age 25.
The emphasis on job training has also been a major calling card overseas for South Carolina officials, who lured BMW here two decades ago and more recently persuaded France’s Michelin and Germany’s Continental Tire to expand in the state.
“The European influence is huge,” said Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, which links the state’s technical college system with private companies to help create specialized programs. “They are our strongest partners.”
European companies are major employers in the state, with more than 28,000 workers for German companies alone. The influx has helped stanch much of the bleeding caused by the decades-long erosion of jobs in the textile industry, once the economic bulwark of the Palmetto state.
Of course, there are other reasons foreign companies have moved here. For starters, wages are lower than the national average. Even more important for many manufacturers, unions have made few inroads in South Carolina.
Still, the close cooperation between employers and the state educational system is unusual, and despite initial skepticism on both sides, apprenticeship opportunities are rapidly expanding both for high-school age students and for older workers.