Saturday, July 12, 2014

Developing an Understanding of the German Vocational Education and Training System

Ready to disembark after a short ferry ride.
July 11, 2014 - Bremen, Germany. By Ansberto Vallejo.

I thought that the highlight of our Study Abroad experience was going to be the various school visits, learning from the apprenticeship-company owners, meeting with the director of the Bremen Chamber of Commerce, and/or sharing Germany’s win to the Final match of the 2014 World Cup. However, my “aha” moment was today, July 10, 2014 at the factory of J Mueller when I was able to connect the dots between Germany’s Dual Vocational Education Training System and how parts of this learning can be applied in Tampa, Florida with its public schools. Our journey started with a ferry boat ride across the river.

J Muller Company.
What is the J Mueller company? Historically Bremen has been a major international port of the world establishing exchanges with goods such as spices, metals and other various products. Now, the J Mueller company, located in Brake, Germany is an active port for shipping to several countries such as Brazil, Spain, Romania, and Egypt to name a few and provides several services which require a workforce that specializes in:

1. Port logistics
2. Construction mechanic
3. Industrial mechanic
4. Electronics technician
5. Automotive mechatronics engineer
6. Freight and logistics services
7. Shipping merchant
8. Specialist for system integration system development

At the company we were greeted by J Mueller’s Human Resources Manager, Mr. Bernd Kempendorf. And of course J Mueller like all of the institutions and companies that we have visited, were very hospitable and had a spread of refreshments, coffee, tea and chocolate cookies, which always put a smile on our faces.

Mr. Kempendorf shared that he had also been a young apprentice at J Mueller and is now responsible for over 400 employees and 61 apprentices, which validated the impact his experience and now professional career. Not only has J Mueller expanded the number of apprentices but has added sought gender diversity in their their workforce which has been historically dominated by males. Mr. Kempedorf was proud to present this data and attributed this success to the partnerships with the Vocational Education Training schools, establishing a strong partnership with the Bremen’s Chamber of Commerce and doing outreach such as “Future Day” which provides candidates with an orientation to the various jobs/apprentice opportunities at the J Mueller factory.

Getting an explanation of how the apprenticeship works at
the company.
After Mr. Kempdendorf, provided an overview of the J. Mueller’s apprenticeship process, we headed off to visit with the employees and understand their job roles. It was at this point that I was convinced that “this” is what’s best for students and if “this” is good for Germany’s youth, there must be way that we can integrate the apprenticeship into our education system and workforce. One of the apprentices was able to concrete my assumption after I asked him the question: what are the perceptions of your friends and family regarding your apprenticeship with this company? He quickly and proudly responded that his family feels that he has made a great choice and they feel that it is a prestigious job to work and learn at J Mueller. He is in his 3rd year of his apprenticeship and the term usually ends in 3.5 years. At the end of his apprenticeship this student has the option of being hired full time at J Mueller or now that he has acquired this experience can negotiate his salary with other companies.

Although we ended our experience at J Mueller with a relaxing three-hour trip by boat to Bremen, my mind was working and trying to grasp how we could implement such system back in the U.S. I must admit that we have the resources back home; it’s a matter of starting these conversations with gradual steps and getting key individuals involved. Stay tuned….
Ansberto Vallejo is Supervisor for Career and Postsecondary Planning in the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, FL.
He is also a doctoral student in career and workforce education at the University of South Florida.