August 15, 2013. Twelve trainees of the Automation Mechatronics Program at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, TN, have passed their final exam and will be the first U.S. students to receive an official graduation certificate from the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) and the German American Chambers of Commerce (AHK USA).
“Volkswagen’s Automation Mechatronics Program is at the forefront of establishing high quality standards for vocational training in the U.S.,” said Martina Stellmaszek, president and CEO of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S. (GACC South). “This is the first program in the U.S. that is fully accredited by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the German American Chambers of Commerce.”
In 2009, Volkswagen decided to invest over $1 billion and build a state-of-the-art assembly plant in Chattanooga. Volkswagen intended to hire approximately 2,000 people for the production facility, but had to realize soon that finding highly skilled labor was a challenge. “The lack of skilled labor in the U.S. has been an ongoing problem for many international subsidiaries and U.S. companies. It has recently been the source for heated political debates. Particularly hard to find are candidates with a STEM background (science, technology, engineering, and math),” explained Stellmaszek. “As a result, more and more companies decide to train their employees on their own and frequently team up with technical colleges or experienced trade organizations like ours.”
Volkswagen has been at the forefront of German companies implementing these German-style apprenticeship programs in the U.S. to train its future employees. While Volkswagen focuses on the technical side of the training, the GACC South examines, certifies, and oversees the quality of these programs. Given that the German Chambers of Commerce are the “competent bodies” by German law that are responsible for the organization, registration, examination, certification, and quality assurance of this training system, the GACC South has been the local partner for Volkswagen in the U.S.
This is how it works: The German Dual Vocational Training System traditionally combines classroom and business, theory and practice, and learning and working. The training usually lasts about three years during which students will apply what they learn in class in a working environment. This type of training has been recognized worldwide as a highly effective model. In Germany, it results in one of the lowest youth unemployment rates (7.9%) among any industrialized nation in the world.
Volkswagen invested $40 million in a new training academy at the Chattanooga plant. The German model of Dual Vocational Training was adapted as a guideline to train students, and the standard German curriculum was implemented. In addition, a German apprenticeship trainer was hired. ”For centuries German companies have provided comprehensive vocational training to ensure the development of a skilled workforce of tomorrow and it is very inspiring to see Volkswagen Chattanooga continue this tradition here in the U.S.,” added Stellmaszek. “Training programs like this will most certainly have a positive impact on local economies and communities.
The German Chambers of Commerce all over the world are the official representatives of industry and trade in their respective country and are, in this capacity, in charge of supporting the efforts of companies, such as Volkswagen Chattanooga.
The German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States was founded in 1978 to promote and support bilateral trade between Germany and the U.S. The GACC South is headquartered in Atlanta, GA, with a branch office in Houston, TX, and serves the 13 Southeastern states and territories of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The GACC South is a private, nonprofit organization. GACC South is part of the worldwide network of German Chambers of Commerce composed of 120 locations in 80 countries.