German vocational training could be coming to the U.S.

Siemens Professional Education Center Sign in Berlin, Germany.

German companies have been successful at training and churning out highly skilled professionals for jobs in engineering and advanced manufacturing. Now, big manufacturing states like North Carolina want to do the same: They're trying to replicate the German apprenticeship model to help groom a new generation for the job market.

Dozens of North Carolinians are visiting Germany this year to get a first-hand look at its apprenticeship programs. One of their main stops is the Siemens Professional Education Center in Berlin.

Martin Stockmann heads Siemens Professional Education in northern Germany. He personally escorts groups of North Carolina public school teachers from classroom to workroom. Stockmann says the company's approach to education allows students to see and touch.

“They can touch it... they can smell it," says Stockmann with a laugh. "So it’s a systems approach... a basic idea of training what we provide here."

It’s all about engineering at this Siemens center. In one classroom, students are working on automation technology. 

Germany’s dual vocational training system has been getting a lot of attention these days. This apprenticeship model is credited with keeping the jobless rate low, with work guarantees for young people.

Marius Kuhn is 21 years old. He says he was one of the lucky ones to get into the Siemens program. “We have good possibilities in the world market to get a job, and that’s why I’m here at Siemens to learn electrical engineering,” he says.

Marius Kuhn, left, and Christian Koepcke, are students at the Siemens Professional Education Center in Berlin.

There are about 1,300 students at this particular Siemens education center, but Stockmann says more than 40,000 young people applied for the company’s training program — think "admission to Harvard or Stanford" odds.  

Could this system of work and education be duplicated in the U.S.?

“Yes, it could be that you can copy some of the elements of our German education system," Stockmann says, "but not the whole part. It’s a very traditional system, based on the German culture, the economy, society.” 

Diane Cherry is a policy manager at the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University. She says the state has a lot to learn from Germany in linking the right workers with the best jobs.  

“It’s a partnership between the community college system and educational institutions and manufacturers to really take advantage of the opportunities that are there,” Cherry says.

Cherry will be visiting Germany this month, along with economic developers, community college administrators and members of the North Carolina legislature. Middle school teacher Annah Creech made the trip to Germany and to Siemens this summer. Creech says she will spend a good part of this new school year trying to expose students to what she experienced.

“Having 6th graders, they have a hard time thinking to next week, much less what they want their careers to be,” says Creech. “But that’s what I am encouraging... to start thinking and investigating. [To] look around and consider the different opportunities.” 

And in a state where the unemployment rate for young people is one of the highest in the country, it’s never too early to start.  

About the author

Leoneda Inge is Changing Economy Reporter for North Carolina Public Radio.

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