Apprentice program reaps rewards for manufacturers in North Carolina

German and Austrian companies operating in North Carolina are having no trouble fielding a 21st-century workforce.
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U.S. manufacturers told President Donald Trump at the White House last month that they can’t find enough workers to fill increasingly high-tech factory jobs.

But some German and Austrian companies operating in North Carolina are having no such trouble fielding a 21st-century workforce.

The companies, under a program called Apprenticeship 2000 — a four-year technical training partnership in the Charlotte region — are finding teenagers before they leave high school, training them through community college courses and then on the factory floor to program, repair and calibrate machines that make everything from cabinet knobs to car parts, according to the Financial Times.

Apprentice 2000 produces the “kids that we’re looking for,” Troy DeVlieger, president of Pfaff Molds USA, a maker of car parts that sponsors the program, told Financial Times. “All of the students in the program are ready to work in advanced manufacturing.”

Graduates emerge from the four-year program with 8,000 hours of training, an associate’s degree in applied science and a job offer — for roughly a $36,000 annual salary — at one of the companies. The price tag: $170,000 in training costs, plus $90,000 in salary spread over four years. But the graduates don’t have to stay with the company after completing the program.

The U.S. manufacturing industry has an estimated 310,000 unfilled jobs.

Three of four manufacturing executives said a lack of skilled workers is slowing growth and preventing companies from adopting new technologies, according to a report from the Manufacturing Institute, an industry trade group. They blame the U.S. education system and have urged the federal government to fund more vocational training.

But many companies have been slow to invest in the apprenticeship model despite its success in Europe — and in pockets of the United States.

Apprenticeship got a boost this month during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington.

The chief executives of German companies Siemens and BMW, which offer apprenticeship programs in South Carolina, and the engineering company Schaeffler accompanied Merkel to the White House to meet with Trump. U.S. companies Salesforce, Dow Chemical and IBM also attended.

The companies agreed to create a task force on expanding apprenticeship opportunities in America, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Trump praised Germany’s approach, calling it “a model for highly successful apprenticeship programs.”

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