Apprenticeship Loyalty in Hannover
Today we went to the MMBbS, an information technology and media vocational training school two hours south of Berlin by train, and learned about the school that was built on the grounds of the Expo 2000, a World Fair whose theme was developing and presenting solutions for the future. Today it is still focused on developing and presenting solutions for the future by teaching its students with a curriculum that not only prepares them for a career in their technical fields with practical application, but teaches them English, political science, and other subjects that prepare them to be knowledgeable citizens of their city.
We met with teachers, students, and school administration but I was struck with the knowledge, desire for learning, and loyalty that we saw in the students. The average age for students was 23, and many of them had made the choice at the beginning of high school to train for their jobs through an apprenticeship program. They most often find their own placement and have to apply to tens of positions before finding the right one. Once they begin, their schedule for three years is to study at the school for two weeks, and then spend four weeks at their host company. They can supplement their lifestyle with the modest stipend they must receive by law from their company (most live at home at this age).
The choices that the students make at a relatively young age influence the rest of their careers. The ones we talked with generally assumed they would continue to work with the same company that they completed their apprenticeship in if they receive an offer. The administration said that over 95 percent receive offers upon completion. When asked why, one of the first reasons we heard was that they feel loyalty toward the company, as it believed in them and invested in their education. Generally the return on investment for the company starts off very low, and gradually works its way up to making a profit, with the assumption that it will benefit most once the apprentice becomes an employee and takes on even more responsibility. This is also one of the reasons why German apprenticeships last three years. The students also said that they become familiar with the host company’s techniques and would be most comfortable staying in the business where they have already put in the effort to learn the system.
As we consider the lessons learned from this trip for the U.S., it is clear that there is a different career mentality for youth on either side of the Atlantic. First of all, it would be hard in the U.S. to enable and encourage young students to seriously consider their career options at such an early age. This would require a much stronger career counseling program in lower secondary schools and a change in mindset on the part of the students as well as the parents and teachers who help guide them. But it also seems as though there is less loyalty toward employer companies in the U.S. Thus, we have a fear of “poaching” where one company invests in the apprenticeship of a student who eventually gets bought out by a wealthier employer upon completion. These are two examples among many differences between the German and American environments that are important to keep in mind as we compare the systems.