Thursday, May 29, 2014

Workplace Innovation - Obama Adopts German Apprentice Program

German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig (left) meets with Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to discuss apprenticeships and skills training, March 28, 2014. Click for a larger photo.
German Ambassador Peter Wittig (L) and
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez. 

In March, I wrote about the way the German government encourages employers to retain workers during a period of slow demand, by paying part of workers' salaries in a shortened work week. This skills-banking approach, called Kurzarbeit,  allows for a more rapid recovery from a slump as labor shortages are reduced on the uptick.

Another program that Germany uses to bring new workers into the labor force is a system of 1.8 million apprenticeships. This vocational training system is considered a international model and the German Embassy leads a "Skills Initiative" in the United States, convening businesses, workers and local training institutes to show how apprenticeships work.

The United States, with four times the population of Germany, has one-fifth as many apprentices. In other words, the German apprenticeship rate is 20 times that of the United States.

President Obama seeks to double the number of U.S. apprentices in the next five years. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez met yesterday with newly appointed German Ambassador Peter Wittig to discuss how this might be achieved. They are exploring what it takes to create a successful apprentice program and they are also sharing ideas on other ways to address youth and long-term unemployment. (Based on the DOL Newsletter, May 29, 2014. For further information on apprenticeships, click here. The Urban Institute is cooperating with the International Skills Standards Organization and the Department of Labor on an international seminar about apprenticeship programs.)