Rare emissary visit is part of the U.S. government’s efforts to support manufacturers’ programs advancing workforce development.
By Theresa Houck, Executive Editor
Did you know what you wanted to do for the rest of your life when you were 15? Do your kids? Many teenagers and young adults don’t know what their skill sets and career interests are, but are pushed toward a path to college, with, sadly, no other options offered to them.
That was the message from U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell when he recently visited Rockwell Automation Encompass™ Product Partner WITTENSTEIN’s North American headquarters in Bartlett, Illinois. He wanted to learn about the company’s leadership and success in its apprenticeships through the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT). His visit was supported by the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce as part of the U.S. government’s efforts to support programs advancing workforce development.
WITTENSTEIN has received national recognition for its exceptional apprenticeship program. The ICATT Apprenticeship Program works with companies to develop custom training plans, vet and recruit apprentices, collaborate with community colleges on classroom training, and provide on-going management. It is the only apprenticeship program in the Midwest fully benchmarked on the German dual education system.
Ambassador Grenell toured the WITTENSTEIN plant and spoke with apprentices, trainers and graduates of the ICATT program. He learned from the apprentices how they worked at the company and how each decided to “stand up to the crowd and say, ‘College is not for me.’ And I think it’s a big deal here in the United States right now, because we have done such a great job of convincing everyone that it’s [college] the only choice,” he explains.
He says the German educational culture has an incredible commitment to apprenticeships as an alternative to college, getting young people to learn a skilled trade immediately, get paid and learn a skill they enjoy — and it’s a life-long choice, just like college is.
“It’s not less than, it’s not better than, it’s just different,” says the Ambassador.
He observes that the historic practice of convincing young people that college is the only career path has contributed to the current skilled workforce shortage in the United States.
“We in the United States, parents and the community, have to do a better job of presenting alternatives in an honest way to our kids, and also I think having the flexibility to realize, ‘They’re [children] going to change their mind, and it’s okay,’” he explains.
He says German manufacturers who have invested in the United States use their apprenticeship programs to help prepare U.S. workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow. “The Germans have done it for a very long time, and they do it really well, so they [U.S. manufacturers] don’t need to reinvent the wheel here in the United States. They can copy what the Germans do.”
The Ambassador noted that industrial jobs aren’t the dirty jobs of old. “Manufacturing today is much different than it was even 20 years ago. With the technology boom, you need operators of computers and complex manufacturing technology, as well as [people who] work with their hands,” he explains.
“The challenge is for community leaders, mayors, city and county councils, county commissioners and governors to recognize that they need to grow these apprenticeship programs. They need to put more money into these programs, and work with the companies that need the skilled labor.”
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