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German delegation visits Darlington, hopes to expand apprenticeship education model in US

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Development of a highly efficient workforce was foremost on the minds of German executives during a whirlwind visit to Rome on Tuesday. The Rome Floyd Chamber hosted German Consul to the Southeast Detlev Ruen­ger, President of German-American Chamber of Commerce Stefanie Jehlitschka, and President and CEO of AGCO Corp. Martin Richenhagen, over lunch with local government and business leaders prior to a tour of the Darlington School and its robotics lab.

Ruenger, who has served in the German diplomatic corps for many years, said the Southeast is the center of German industrial investment in the United States, with over 100,000 jobs created in the six states he serves.

Ruenger said expansion of the German apprenticeship model into the American manufacturing sector was important to the many German companies looking to expand into the U.S. “As it is in Germany, obviously it is something that was grown over centuries, so this is something we can’t carbon copy but we would like to bring in elements, we would like to meet demands of industry with what is locally available,” Ruenger said.

Jehlitschka said the Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training was introduced last year, designed to cluster manufacturers who have the need for a specifically skilled workforce. She said a key to the success of the program is the identification of a competent educational partner which would offer a unified curriculum.

Ruenger said the German economy is doing quite well. “A core element of the German economy always has been the car manufacturer,” Ruenger said. “The U.S. is our most important export market in the world, and we’re happy when things go well here.”

She said as the automotive industry in the Southeast has grown, the additional of new models creates an opportunity for a different supplier base. “Georgia really is in what we call the triangle of automotive here in the South, so suppliers are our main companies that are looking into investing here,” Jehlitschka said.

The interest in education led Ruenger and Jehlitschka to a tour of the Darlington School after lunch where they met with German student Sophia Kalusche who has been in Rome for almost three years. Kalusche said she has enjoyed her time at Darlington but would probably be going home to Germany to go to college.

Ruenger and Jehlitschka visited instructor Owen Kinney’s Darlington robotics labs where they spoke to several students. Both diplomats were extremely interested in both use of technology in the classrooms as well as instruction related in technological fields.