Bridging the Skills Gap

Mario Kratsch, vice president at the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACC), explains how German-style dual apprenticeship training – one of the bedrocks of German economic success – could solve the shortage of skilled workers in the U.S.

August, 2018

Companies in the U.S. are facing a critical challenge: Skilled manufacturing workers from the baby boomer generation are edging closer to retirement, but there are not enough younger and next-generation skilled workers in the pipeline to replace them.

Two-thirds of high school graduates head straight to college without exploring alternative career opportunities such as high-tech manufacturing. One estimate puts the number of likely vacant positions because of this impending skill shortage at a staggering 3.4 million by 2025 if no steps are taken to address the problem.

German-style apprenticeships, one of the bedrocks of German economic success, may provide the solution. Policymakers from both sides of the Atlantic have been discussing how apprenticeship programs can be expanded in the U.S. So important is this issue for the future health of the U.S. economy that Germany and America have signed a Joint Declaration of Intent on exchanging best practices and cooperation in this field. The idea is to adapt the German model for the U.S. market by creating structures within the existing U.S. education and employment systems, and it has led to a number of regional pilots.

The GACC Midwest is one of the pioneers supporting the creation of these scalable programs within the region. And the results speak for themselves: its Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT) Apprenticeship Program has not only proved a success story for the trainees and companies involved but also has gained significant recognition nationwide. ICATT delivers a pipeline of skilled talent to high-tech manufacturers and companies with complex automation or logistical requirements. It is the only apprenticeship program in the Midwest which is fully benchmarked against the German dual education system.

The Guru of GACC

Mario Kratsch is VP at the GACC Midwest and leader of their Skills Initiative, a program which promotes dual apprenticeship training in the U.S. Previously, he worked at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry East Thuringia, training professionals working in industrial and technical sectors.

How dual apprenticeships work

Apprentices (known as Azubis in Germany) are taken into companies at a comparatively early age and given on-the-job training in parallel with education at local colleges over three years. The training often involves specific and specialized practical skills that are in high demand yet difficult to acquire through the academic system. Azubi graduates are typically highly-skilled and experienced by the time they enter the labor ­market.

Spearheaded in the U.S. by German subsidiaries familiar with the benefits of developing their own specialized workforce, more and more American companies are following suit and investing in apprenticeships. Apprenticeships not only help to close the skills gap but they can foster a deep sense of company loyalty. They are not, however, the solution for short-term worker shortages and should be seen as a medium to long-term investment. Companies who commit at the beginning must do so in the knowledge that it will be some time before their investment bears fruit.

Photo: Mario Kratsch, vice president at the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest (GACC)|© German American Chamber of Commerce® of the Midwest, Inc.

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