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German firms transplant European apprentice model to US

Stashed in: Germany

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Unlike the the apprenticeships common in the US, those launched by German firms attempt to find potential workers early. In Germany, it's not unusual for students to stop traditional high school at the age of 16 and spend several years working and studying.

It's no easy call for a US high school senior, with friends chattering about where they want to go to college and parents insisting that's the surest path to a productive life. There's the volleyball team to think about, the final parties with friends and the send-off moments such as the senior class photo.

Johnson set that all aside and began splitting her time among high school, technical classes at Central Piedmont Community College, and a Siemens factory that builds steam- and natural-gas-fired turbines for power plants around the world. Look for her today, three years later, and you'll find her on the sunrise shift running a vertical boring mill alongside crews that are mostly male and twice her age. But this is no grimy shop floor. Clean, quiet and highly automated, it's a factory where the workers need to have as much comfort with a computer as they do turning a screw.

By the end of her four-year fellowship, when she will be 20, Johnson will have a foothold in the labour force and an associate's degree – without the debt that has increasingly made many young people wary of college. She will also be earning about $34,000 a year, according to the Charlotte-area Apprenticeship 2000 programme, which Johnson joined.

Siemens, she said, will be where she makes a career. "I can go anywhere – to Australia and Brazil and back," she said. "I will still get to travel. That is the goal. But I plan on staying with Siemens. I have no reason to ever leave."

This is the future. No high falutin university. Just practical training and actual job skills.

The only problem is, there just aren't that many factory jobs these days.

Is programming the new factory job?

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