Business Representatives and Policy Makers Discuss Vocational Training


from left: Volker Treier (DIHK), Eric Spiegel (Siemens), Rebecca Blank, Ambassador Peter Ammon (© Z. Garcia for

Representatives from German companies in the U.S., the U.S. government, the German chamber organization, and academia met on January 29th at the residence of the German Ambassador, Dr. Peter Ammon, in Washington. Their discussion on “The Skills Initiative: The Crucial Role of Workforce Development for Jobs and Growth in the United States and Germany” focused on the advantages of the German dual training system and the need for a comparable system in the United States. More and more subsidiaries of German companies are currently beginning their own vocational training programs in cooperation with local community colleges in order to meet labor demands.

The keynote speech was delivered by acting Secretary of Commerce, Dr. Rebecca Blank. She emphasized that the United States would like to learn from the ideas and practices that flourish in Germany, and she pledged support in this endeavor. Dr. Volker Treier, Deputy CEO and Managing Director of the International Affairs department at the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK), explained the advantages of the vocational training system. Besides the low youth unemployment rate of around 8 % the completion of a dual training stands for a far greater likelihood of a successful career placement. Treier then referred to the role of the regional chambers of industry and commerce (IHKs) in Germany who supervise the training within the companies, and provide the examinations for trainers as well as the final examinations for the trainees. He recognized the work of the chamber organization and the companies as a fruitful public-private partnership.

Eric Spiegel, President and CEOs of Siemens Corp. claimed that the skills gap was real and that the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies, had identified 100,000 open positions in 200 companies. With the manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. this number is going to get worse, according to Spiegel. He pledged to create an environment which rewards technical training skills. The CEO and General Manager of Zentis Food Solutions, Norbert Weichele, added that at their Indiana plant the skills issue has been the key challenge since they opened up the plant 6 years ago – despite a statewide unemployment rate of 8 to 10 %. Weichele himself completed a bank apprenticeship and never regretted the hands-on experience and the down-to-earth education he gained there. Dr. Tony Zeiss, President of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC expanded on his school’s cooperation with Siemens and the IHK in Karlsruhe, Germany. He had adopted the German model 15 years ago and now strives to become the nation’s leader in workforce development. Professor Robert Lerman of American University indicated that society must shift its mentality towards vocational training in order for it to be more attractive. Young people must be able to show pride in vocational skills, and not feel pressured to pursue the university track.