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German Manufacturers Got It Right, Why Can’t We

German Manufacturers Got It Right

Tom Peters, Director of Workforce Development at Symbol Training Institute went to German to find out what they’re doing to prevent a Labor Skills Shortage.  Chicago Crains interviewed Tom upon his return:

So how does the German system for training workers in the manufacturing sector compare to the American one?

There’s more of a collaboration between the government and the manufacturers. The students, in essence, can graduate from their schooling in ninth grade, age 15, or 10th grade, which is age 16, and then go into an apprenticeship program. It’s a work-study program. So you’re working during the day and taking night school, or you’re working part-time and taking school part-time. They’re still getting paid, and usually those range from three to three-and-half years.

Part of the issue here in the States is that it’s pretty fractured in terms of a career ladder. There’s no set way of doing it, because manufacturers are more concerned with what goes on in their four walls. There’s still, in my opinion, too much competition for the talent. The main thing here is trying to break that culture of poaching, or at least that fear of poaching. (Germany has) more of a spirit of collaboration.

Who were some of the manufacturers that you visited?
A company that really stood out to me is Schunk, which is a manufacturer of gripping and clamping technologies. They actually have a full-on education center (at their site in southwest Germany), where it was 40 or 50 students on the shop floor there: getting trained up, filing, deburring. Starting them up from the very basics. It was interesting to see that and the capital expenditure that they put into making a true education center. You don’t see that happening too often here in the States.

Was there anything that surprised you about the companies?
Some of these buildings were vertical. They’d have machining operations on the second floor. In order to accommodate that, they actually had large garage doors on the second floor and huge freight elevators.