Learning from Germany’s model – youth-apprenticeship programs – Cover Story

Apprentice Michael Dean’s workday generally begins with a training session on the fundamental skills and techniques he will need as an electronic-communications technician.

This high-skilled job involves maintaining and repairing complex computing systems that make up telephone digital switching systems serving commercial and residential customers. His training involves learning how the computing systems are assembled, how they function, and how to repair them.

Five months into a new training program launched by Siemens Corp., Dean is working to perfect the soldering of electrical wiring onto a circuit board.

Siemens is a large company in fields that include electronics, electrical and medical engineering, and telecommunications.

“We are learning what quality soldering is and learning how to elevate our personal standards to a higher level,” Dean says. “As we work on this, we can better visualize and understand what quality is.”

Dean is an apprentice with Siemens Stromberg-Carlson in Lake Mary, Fla. Siemens Stromberg-Carlson, one of Siemens’ operating companies in the United States, provides telephone operating companies with advanced, high-quality public telecommunications networks. Siemens Corp. also has started pilot apprenticeship programs at two other U.S. locations–Raleigh, N.C., and Franklin, Ky.

Dean, who was reared in California and has an associate’s degree in arts and sciences, is learning the intricate details of this job from a German trainer in a new training center established by Siemens Stromberg-Carlson.

Each week, Dean spends 20 hours at the training center and takes approximately 20 hours in classroom courses at a local community college. There are 20 apprentices in the 2 1/2-year apprenticeship program; most of them are younger than Dean, who is 41.

After completing two years of the apprenticeship program, Dean will receive six months of on-the-job training as a technician. Although he is not guaranteed a position with the firm, “we hope and anticipate that we will be able to hire every single apprentice in the program,” says Gary Garman, Siemens’ manager of training in Lake Mary.

Dean receives a monthly stipend plus money to cover all tuition and books for his required college courses while he is in the program. When he completes his course work, he will receive an associate’s degree in science and engineering technology-an ASET.

Siemens Stromberg-Carlson is working in conjunction with Seminole Community College on this particular apprenticeship program.

The new training program is similar in many ways to the highly respected apprenticeship system in Germany, which Siemens has used with great success there.

Improving quality at all three sites was the primary reason behind launching the new training effort, says John Tobin, Siemens’ director of vocational and technical training, and a former New York City principal. “You have to lay out the parameters of quality, and then you have to train workers to produce to that level.”

While many European nations have successful apprenticeship programs, the German system, which has its origins in the 500-year-old crafts guilds of the Middle Ages, has attracted the most respect and attention in the United States.

About two-thirds of Germany’s young men and women ages 16 to 19 participate in apprenticeship programs, working toward formal certification in about 380 different occupations.

German apprentices spend three or four days a week on a work site learning a craft and one or two days in technical school. It is called the “dual system” because it combines supervised work experience with part-time schooling. Apprentices receive stipends of about $500 a month.

At the end of a three-year apprenticeship, in which the training received meets standards agreed upon by employers and labor unions, the German trainees take a national exam and secure a certificate of mastery recognized throughout the country.

Individual German states fund the vocational schools, and the companies that take part in the nationwide program spend about 2 percent of payroll on it.

More than 50 percent of German apprentices remain employed with the companies that provided their training. Firms are not required to hire their apprentices, but many companies see an advantage in hiring employees whose personal characteristics and technical skills are known to them.

After completing their apprenticeships and working for several years, former apprentices can take additional instruction and pass another set of exams to become a “meister,” which means master. They generally train other apprentices, and many own small businesses.

Attempts to establish a youth apprenticeship program in the U.S. are under way. The Labor Department has helped launch several youth apprenticeship pilot programs in a number of locations around the country.

Stephen Hamilton, a professor of human development and family studies at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an expert on the German apprenticeship model, notes that the success of a nationwide effort must secure the participation of employers. “Unlike school-based approaches to learning, youth apprenticeship absolutely requires the participation of employers.”

While program supporters caution that the German system cannot simply be duplicated in the United States, they note that several characteristics–such as starting the program in high school and establishing skill certification–can be incorporated into a program here.

A nationwide program is likely to win the support of Congress; eight apprenticeship bills were introduced in the last congressional session, but election-year politics made consideration of those measures difficult.

Similar measures will be reintroduced in the 103rd Congress.

With the president’s support, Congress is expected to pass youth-apprenticeship legislation sometime this year or next.

COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Chamber of Commerce

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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