COVINGTON, Ga. - German-style apprenticeships have recently come to Georgia. The Newton County School System (NCSS) and Rockdale County Public Schools have worked with several area businesses as well as other organizations to offer this opportunity. The first local German apprentices began their experience with the start of school this fall.
To get the NCSS’s perspective on this new program, the Covington News recently interviewed Tim Schmitt, NCSS’s director of career technical and agricultural education and workforce innovation.
The News: What is a German apprenticeship?
Schmitt: For right now we are calling it our “German Apprenticeship Industrial Maintenance Program.” The premise is that a German apprenticeship starts with 10th grade students and matches them through an interview process with a company that agrees to take them on as an apprentice for three years during tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade. And, while they are doing that, the students also dual enroll in Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s (GPTC’s) industrial maintenance program.
We are building the program as we go. However, we know there is 100 years of proven success in Germany, so we know it is a good model. As I understand it, there are over 300 different apprenticeship programs in Germany and about 70 percent of all Germans receive their training in those programs.
The differences for what it can look like here presents a little bit of a risk. But to see the students and parents reacting positively right out of the gate is promising and they have not even gotten to the really interesting stuff yet.
The News: How is this program different from traditional youth apprenticeship?
Schmitt: In traditional youth apprenticeships students don’t start until 11th grade. They get their academic training primarily at the high school level in classes that align with their apprenticeship job and work-based training at the company. NCSS’s work-based learning coordinator works with each company’s people to develop a training plan for each student. The plans are different for each company and each student.
The German apprenticeship program follows a different model. There is a standardized set of desired learning outcomes and curriculum dictated by the German Chamber of Commerce and jointly delivered by the technical college and the company. All apprentices in a particular program and preparing for a particular career, in our case industrial maintenance, follow the same plan and learn the same concepts and skills.
I don’t know if any way is better. Our youth apprenticeship students are very good. We have about 94 students in youth apprenticeship and six students in the German apprenticeship program.
The News: Were many students interested?
Schmitt: Initially 40 to 50 of last year’s ninth graders expressed interest. After the college entrance exam that shrunk to about 30. After the industry tour and more information ses, ions there were about 18. The companies interviewed 13 for six spots.
The News: Who are the NCSS students and companies involved?
Schmitt: We have three students from Alcovy High School. They are Steven Holmes who is working with General Mills, James Kauffman with FiberVisions, and Matt Launder with Michelin. There are two from Eastside High School: Amaru Lackey working with General Mills and Nolan Miller with Nisshinbo. Rashid Outar from Newton High School is apprenticing with Verescence.
The News: What will a German apprenticeship student’s week and program look like?
Schmitt: Every day the students go to their home high school for first period, just like any Newton College and Career Academy (NCCA) student does. On Tuesday and Thursday they are bused to the NCCA and then bused to GPTC for the day. GPTC is contributing specific courses aligned with the prescribed learning outcomes and curriculum.
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they are bused to NCCA for a required high school class during second period and then they go to work for the rest of the day, but instead of working on a task that the company might have them do as a regular employee, they work under an assigned mentor on what are called “Christiani projects.”
These projects are designed to teach concepts, skills, and applications prescribed by the German Chamber of Commerce. The students have a workbench and standardized tools purchased by the company. We are new at this, but I believe, that Christiani projects start with very simple things, like ‘here is a block of steel, turn that into this part based on these specifications.’ They start that basic and develop over time to more advanced things.
The company agrees to pay the students $8 per hour as 10th graders, $10 per hour as 11th graders, and $12 per hour as 12th graders. They get paid to work on Christiani projects. Now as they go through the program, I believe there is time built in for them to not only work on their Christiani projects, but also to work on some regular job projects.
But remember this first group is only 15 years old. Per U.S. Department of Labor rules, they cannot even go to the companies right now. So we are working with the companies to have the workbenches, tools, and Christiani projects housed at the NCCA until they get old enough—16 years old—to go to the companies.
The News: What credentials will the German apprentices earn?
Schmitt: A typical high school student has to have 23 credits to graduate, but under Senate Bill 2 a student can earn a high school diploma in an alternate way in certain high need industry areas. Industrial maintenance is one of those areas. Under this alternative path students take just eight high school courses, those associated with end-of-course high school tests, and the remainder of their program is provided by GPTC and their apprenticeship company.
At the end of the program students will have earned a high school diploma as well as two technical certificates of credit—one in manufacturing production assistant and one in manufacturing maintenance technician—and a technical college diploma in precision manufacturing and maintenance from GPTC. Their college work will be paid by the State through the Move On When Ready program. They will be just a few credits shy of an associate’s degree.
They also will have a U.S. Department of Labor apprenticeship certificate. In addition, the German apprenticeship program has a midterm exam at 18 months and a final exam at the end of the three years. If they are successful on those exams they will be a registered, licensed German apprentice.
In our estimation they will be among the most sought after industrial maintenance technicians around and will be poised to advance at a faster rate than an entry level employee might.
The News: How can other students get involved?
Schmitt: In December and January, NCSS will start putting out information and recruiting for next year’s German apprentices. Recruitment will include informal presentations to 9th graders, particularly those interested in engineering and manufacturing; advertisements; teacher recommendations; and sending information directly to students, parents, and others. The goal is to have students identified for interviews with the companies by the end of the school year.
The two NCSS contacts for those interested in the German apprenticeship program are myself (Schmitt) and Carol Burke, NCCA assistant principal for business engagement.
The News: Why is the school system involved?
Schmitt: It’s certainly a lot of work for six kids, right? But, finding paths for success for every kid is what we want to do as a school system. We know that seven classes a day for 12 years isn’t always what the path looks like for every kid. This is just one more option for students to chose. That’s what’s in it for us and we are happy to do it. I’m excited and happy to be part it.