Pilot project leading the way

Apprenticeship at thyssenkrupp | Career at thyssenkrupp | At two thyssenkrupp sites in Danville, Illinois, an innovative pilot project to tackle the skills shortage is turning into a real success story. Last summer the company’s “Youth Apprenticeship Program” has entered its fifth year.

For a long time people in Vermilion County in Illinois steered well clear of the manufacturing sector. In the 1990s many factories in the region had to close, hundreds of jobs were lost. “It was clear that parents would often discourage their children from pursuing a career in manufacturing,” says Donnie Robinson, Head of Learning & Development at thyssenkrupp Camshafts. Skilled workers were hard to find, employee turnover high. In 2013 the company’s then CEO Mario Gropp (now CEO at thyssenkrupp Camshafts in Ilsenburg, Germany), decided to face the challenge head on with a two-year paid youth apprentice program giving young people access to attractive careers at thyssenkrupp.

It worked out: Last summer marked the start of the fifth year of the German-style dual vocational apprenticeship program – a unique pilot project for the region. Over the two years of the youth apprenticeship each class of ten high-school graduates gains real work experience at thyssenkrupp. After attending school in the mornings they alternate their afternoons between studying for metalworking credentials at college and working at thyssenkrupp.

The youth apprentices spend six to ten hours a week at the plant getting to know six departments from production to quality management and logistics. “That way the apprentices can find out what area of work they are most interested in” says Robinson. The aim of the project is to recruit the young people to the company’s long-term workforce.

The program is a hit not only with the young participants. Local schools and the “Vermilion Advantage” economic development organization have also been won over by the model – and entered into a partnership with thyssenkrupp. “What’s special about our project is that it is company-driven,” says Robinson.

While at first thyssenkrupp really had to push the program, nowadays the youth apprentices themselves are its best advert. At an open house event the young people taking visitors on a tour of the plant with enthusiasm. “The accounts the young colleagues give of their experience and the pride they show are great for recruitment. Their enthusiasm is contagious – and that’s exactly what we want,” says Robinson. The untiring dedication of the program coordinators at the two local plants and support from county high schools also contribute to the growing interest in the project.

The uniqueness of the program? That it is created as a collaborative “dual education” program even though the high school system in the USA is not set up for dual education like in Germany. And the graduates’ success is impressive. Many of them have transitioned into full-time jobs at thyssenkrupp. Others are continuing their training in manufacturing – and thyssenkrupp is staying in touch with them as prospective future employees.

Mario Gropp is convinced that the Youth Apprenticeship Program would also be suitable for other thyssenkrupp companies – even where it is not available under local education systems. The manufacturing industry has to prepare the next generation of skilled workers itself. Most important of all: “It has to be a top-down process! Management has to take a proactive approach, not just provide support,” says Gropp.

Models like the Youth Apprenticeship Program could soon take off in the US: During Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Washington, US President Donald Trump was so impressed by the German dual training system that he asked his team to develop a similar model.

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