Educating the future workforce is an ongoing challenge for the United States and Europe. Skills required by high-growth jobs are not necessarily being taught in traditional career paths, and there is a skills mismatch that leads to a growing shortfall of eligible workers. Germany’s apprenticeship system has successfully lowered youth unemployment and the U.S. administration has looked to Germany’s example in creating its own. But because of the differences in state structure, ideology, geography, demographics, education structures, etc., the U.S. system of workforce development is currently quite complex, involving a multiplicity of stakeholders that change state by state. As a result, workforce development programs can tend to be overlooked as an option for local governments, companies, and job-seekers, even though it has been proven to lead to positive outcomes.
On September 1, AICGS hosted a case competition that looked at the future workforce challenges for the United States and Europe. The goal of the case competition was to develop a hypothetical small-scale workforce development program for the U.S. Teams produced a proposal for a skill-based program that would create a pathway for hourly employee participants to move up the career ladder within one service industry while maintaining flexibility in the labor market.
The event began with a keynote given by Birgit Schweeberg of HKS Handelskammer Hamburg Service GmbH, who explained how chambers operate in Germany. Vocational training is a way for German students to transition from general school to work life. Contracts are signed between prospective companies and apprentices, resulting in a constant back and forth between practical work experience in a real environment and school topics developed by industry experts.
Once the standard is established, it is signed by the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economics. This standard is not only the basis of the curriculum of the vocational school but also guidelines for the practical workplace training which details the duration of training and when a specific topic should be taught. Three judges decide if an individual has passed or not at the end. These judges are made up of an individual from the company, the vocational school, and the trade union. Importantly, people from the company never judge their own apprentices in order to ensure the evaluation’s objectivity. The chamber will award the highly sought-after certificate if an individual passes. However, just because a student apprentices in one area does not mean he/she cannot change to another industry.
The chambers are considered the private sector custodians because of the significant role they play in the vocational training process. The chambers represent the businesses, not the government, and companies must register with their local chamber in order to do training, as the chambers are responsible for making sure that the companies have the required occupational standards and that workplace training is done adequately. They also oversee the examination period. The chambers are a neutral institution, respected by the industry, and this is why the certificates they award to apprentices who pass are so valuable.
There are important steps to take to initiate dual vocational training in Germany. In order to get anywhere it is important remember that Germany has a bottom-up approach so everything starts with the industry needs and activities. To go further one must understand that in Germany private sector institutions are considered more business minded. For the training, in order to reduce the risk of free riders and cherry picking, it is crucial in setting a cluster standard and having a joint effort among companies to implement the same kind of training. Although real world practical experience is important, school and college training is necessary due to the fact that some topics are better taught and understood in classrooms. The vocational training involves time and money which is a huge investment the companies bear. Consequently it is the industry that must be kept in the driver’s seat at all times in order to maintain the appreciation and recognition of the certificate. Evidence has shown that the returns for companies in Germany are higher than the costs on these types of training.
Participants then split into groups to begin the case competition. Each of the three groups took a slightly different approach to addressing the United States workforce problem. Group 1 focused specifically on hotels. They outlined a plan to train hotel room service workers, explaining that their system would allow for upward movement in the hotel business, and that it would teach hotel service workers transferrable skills. Group 2 focused their presentation on the entertainment industry and, according to the judges, did the best job of explaining how their plan could be expanded to other sectors of the workforce. Group 3 focused on fast-food restaurants. They outlined a detailed budget for their training program, and were the winners of the competition.
The United States is faced with a very real workforce problem. Not only do we need to mend systemic issues that have resulted in high unemployment and poverty, but we need to change the American psyche. The so-called “American Dream” in which everyone goes to college has evolved into a divisive ideal type that cannot be achieved. Many children grow up thinking that if they do not attend college, they will not find a good job. To shift the mindset and change the “us versus them” mentality, we need to change the system. The United States can learn much from Germany as it seeks to implement a successful trade school/workforce-oriented initiative that empowers the working class and gives them the skills necessary to achieve success.
Summary written by Rudy Kulkarni and Hans Lynn