Pete McDonald compares the German apprenticeship model for close to 300 different occupations to dating. McDonald, who just returned from a trip to Germany, said, "During the apprenticeship time you're dating, you're trying to see how things match up and then at the end you either get married or you go and date somebody else."
McDonald, president of Georgia Northwestern Technical College, said he actually heard that analogy from a German executive but thought it fit well.
He was joined on the trip to Germany earlier this month by Lorette Hoover, president of Columbus Tech, and Ian Bond, executive director for the International Center of the Technical College System of Georgia.
While in Germany, McDonald signed agreements with the Joachim Herz Foundation to enhance participation in a student exchange program, as well as an agreement with Staatliche Berufsschule Bad Aibling, a publicly run organization delivering vocational education and training that will involve an exchange of staffing from the two institutions to help customize workforce development efforts.
The GNTC executive said the trip essentially had four purposes. The first objective was to get a firsthand look at a major logistics center in Hamburg.
“We teach logistics management," McDonald said.
They also wanted to visit the Herz Foundation, which promotes a student exchange program that brought three students to GNTC for the first time earlier this year. The trip also included a visit to the Handwerkskammer Berlin (Berlin Chamber of Vocational Education) before a series of meetings at several colleges and companies.
The agreement with the Berufsschule Bad Aibling provides both a student and faculty exchange.
"We're going to start in 2019 with the faculty exchange in February and March. The German institution will send three members of its faculty to Rome for a week or so in February, and then GNTC will send two, possibly three, faculty members to Bad Aibling, near Munich, in March.
"I know we're going to send two, but we might send one of our deans along with them," McDonald said.
"Our goal is to learn from each other. It's a global economy," McDonald said. Manufacturing in the U.S. in whatever field is similar to that in Germany.
"But they have a completely different system in terms of apprenticeships and support from their companies and the way their Chambers of Commerce function."
In general, the GNTC president said the German apprenticeship system is dramatically different from traditional workforce development in the U.S.
"In Germany, when the young people approach the age of 15 or 16, they sort of have to make a career decision," McDonald said. Typically that involves a choice between continuing to school in preparation for college or taking the apprenticeship route.
McDonald explained that getting into college is a lot different and involves a lot of testing.
"There's no, ‘My daddy went here and I can get in,’" McDonald said. "You either make the score or you don't."
The apprenticeship route is the other alternative and seems to work very well. McDonald said youngsters are likely to earn about $1,000 Euros a month during their apprenticeship.
"It gives them a means of living while they are studying. Even though they might still be living with their parents, they can probably afford a car, or some of the other things young people want to have," McDonald said.
After a three-to-four year apprenticeship, which involves a combination of schooling and place of employment work/training, the students have a choice to stick with the company they have been with or move on to someplace else, McDonald said. The Georgia educators were told about 70 percent stay with the company they apprenticed with.
"The others either go on to another level of education or transfer to another company. It's like anything else, it may not have been the best fit, but they'll go to another company that needs the same kind of occupation training," he said. McDonald explained that it's not unusual for someone to have completed the apprenticeship and then triple their income.
"When they finish their apprenticeship and get their license they are making more, for a period of time, than a four-year university graduate," McDonald said.
Ken Wright, director of business and industry services at the Rome Floyd Chamber, said one could draw a comparison between the apprenticeship model in Germany, and throughout Europe, to American internship programs.
"They're both work-based learning programs. The internship is typically a shorter term, one semester or a year," Wright said. He has spoken to McDonald about a program that would involve students enrolled at the local college and career academies that can be followed up by actual apprenticeship programs when students move on to the technical college.
Wright, who sits on the board of directors at Floyd County College and Career Academy, said right now there are more kids interested in internships than there are slots available in local businesses.
McDonald said the stability of employment in Germany is amazing, many working at the same company, often in the same hometown, for 30-40 years.
"It's just a different culture than we have," McDonald said. "We will never (fully) have a German apprenticeship model, I'll say that up front, but we can work more in partnership to create apprenticeship-type work in education. That will produce a better employee for all the companies we have."
He said the mindset of companies in the U.S. needs to change somewhat. His own opinion, based on years of experience, is that many companies in the U.S. see the education system as being responsible for providing a fully trained worker with little input from the company.
"I think it needs to be more of a sharing thing," McDonald said. He said a company the Georgia group visited, the Spinner Group, hires around eight apprentices a year in a plant with around 200 full-time employees.
The memorandum of understanding between GNTC and Berufsschule Bad Aibling is considered to be a continuous agreement with annual review at the end of the state fiscal year, June 30.
The agreement with the Herz Foundation will once again bring three German students to GNTC in 2019, including Petra Schnitzenbaumer, Adrian Singer and Martin Auer, students from the Bavarian region of Germany who are all interested in industrial mechanics. They will be in the U.S. from the first of April through the end of May.
Schnitzenbaumer will be the first female apprentice to come to GNTC as part of the program.
"We have a very hard time getting females into these, what we refer to as non-traditional occupations," McDonald said.