Workforce: Finders Keepers

Author Alan Richter
March 23, 2017 - 11:00am

Many shop owners and managers bellyache about the difficulty of attracting skilled workers. 

Quit complaining and commit to a German-style, dual-training apprenticeship program so you can grow your own talent. That was one piece of advice offered by Mario Kratsch, director of the skills initiative for the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest Inc., Chicago. He was speaking at an informational event about the dual vocational training program offered by GACC Midwest’s Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT). Hermle Machine Co. LLC, which has committed to the program, hosted the event March 2 at its Franklin, Wis., facility to highlight the program’s benefits.

Modeled after Germany’s apprenticeship system and billed as a company-driven approach to technical training, GACC Midwest developed ICATT in 2015. The organization is seeking other Wisconsin manufacturers to join Hermle Machine so the program can successfully launch this fall.

“We need a critical mass of 10 to 12 students in order for a technical college to say, ‘Yes, we will provide those classes,’” said Manuel Merkt, vice president of operations for the machine tool builder.

This number is needed because the qualifying apprentices in the 3-year program attend classes as a group to earn a customized associate degree. They also work at the participating manufacturers that hired them to receive training tailored to each company’s needs. Depending on the program, an apprentice might attend school 3 days a week and work 2 days or attend classes in, say, 8-week blocks, with each followed by a multiple-week block of work.

“The ICATT program was initially developed in Illinois due to the high demand from German companies looking for skilled employees, but more and more U.S. companies are joining to keep a competitive edge,” said Geneva Scurek, manager, skills initiative at GACC Midwest. “This is why we are now expanding the program to Wisconsin.”

Merkt, who completed an apprenticeship in Germany, explained that ICATT follows the German approach of developing a network of young people who all have the same training for a particular field. “It’s a lot easier to go from one company to another because each company knows that this person went through this program and has the same skill set,” he said.

Nonetheless, after apprentices complete the program, they are contractually obligated to either work for the company at least 2 more years or reimburse the company some or all of the tuition and other expenses, Merkt noted. “You can also look at it this way: We provide the apprentices with at least a 2-year employment guarantee after the apprenticeship program.”

Based on input from the three apprentices who participated in a panel discussion at the event, a large percentage of program graduates will continue to work for a company significantly longer than the 2-year minimum because one of the benefits of ICATT is greater employee loyalty. “If you cannot create loyalty for your company to that young professional within 5 years, you have kind of failed your job,” said Merkt, who has worked at Hermle for 17 years.

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Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Including his 20 years at CTE, Alan has more than 30 years of trade journalism experience.