Obama praises German Vocational Education System

US President Barack Obama suggested orienting American public education reform towards the German vocational education system during his State of the Union address on February 12th. Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses have been marked by important comments regarding education.
“Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges. So those German kids, they’re ready for a job when they graduate high school”, Obama praised.
What sets the German education system apart? The answer, as Obama alluded to, is a partnership between the public and private sectors.
A special branch of the German educational system is called “dual system” of vocational training (apprenticeship) in a company or business plus vocational school. In Germany, nearly 60% of high school graduates go on to vocational school, where students spend 3-4 days per week at work with a company, and 2-3 days in class, learning the same skills they need for a profession. During this 2-3 year “contract”, students get paid by their employers, and schooling isn’t free, either.
But would a German-style vocational program work in the US?
Siemens U.S., Mercedes-Benz U.S. and Volkswagen U.S., daughters of the German parent companies, decided to take matters into their own hands and set up an internal apprenticeship program.*

Siemens, the industrial conglomerate, recently began a dual system apprenticeship scheme at its gas and steam turbine plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. But first it had some explaining to do. “If you went in front of a high-school class and said: ‘Who wants to be a machinist when they grow up?’, those kids would look at you and say: ‘What’s a machinist?’ ” explains Pamela Howze, training manager at the plant. “We’re trying to change a mindset of kids who have thought their whole life that they were going to go away to college and get a four-year degree.”*

The focus has always been on high-tech processes, efficiency and quality output. That requires skilled people. It remains exciting to observe the changes in particular if more and more companies will create their own apprenticeship programs.

Author: Andreas Weitzell, legal trainee Charlotte Office
*source: dpa, ft.com/management
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