Dialogue and Differences: German Trainees Encounter Vocational Training in the U.S.

Impressions from the trainees’ visit to the Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (VW) plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a roundtable discussion on vocational training, and the potential of German-American trainee exchanges.

On April 28, the group toured the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, two hours North of Atlanta. This trip was meant to give the trainees a glimpse of German-American manufacturing and connect them with trainees at the plant. In the U.S., Volkswagen is widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of vocational training, and their pilot dual program “German style” has made national headlines. Their inaugural class of apprentices graduated in 2013.

The group in front of the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“I was really surprised by the big organizational differences in their training program, compared to ours in Germany. It is surprising that we finish with the same certificate, even though the path to it is structured so differently,” states Sandra Bittner, who is currently completing an eight-week internship at the GACC South. The differences she is referring to range from duration, salary, college credits and vacation to the overall acceptance of vocational training in Germany compared to the U.S.

There are, however, also distinct similarities. The mechanical training workshop, or “Lehrwerkstatt”, was identical to the one that companies in Germany use. Mr. Ilker Subasi, the Volkswagen Academy Head of Training, Mr. Albert Graser, Technical Training Specialist, and four American trainees greeted the German group at VW’s on-site Academy. The group exchanged views and personal experiences as trainees. They also discussed the fact that in Germany, a good traineeship is taken for granted, whereas in the U.S., training with a company is still largely seen as a means to secure a job.


Dr. Oliver Schmidt, the Program Coordinator at the Joachim Herz Foundation, the trainees from Bavaria meeting with the American trainees and trainers at the VW Academy in Chattanooga, TN.

The direct exchange with their American counterparts allowed the trainees from Bavaria to realize how far they have come since their arrival in early April. They have learned a lot, not only about the people and the respective cultures, but also about themselves and about what they could accomplish with their training.

On April 25, a roundtable discussion on the topic of vocational training and trainee exchanges was hosted by Arnall Golden Gregory LLP in Atlanta. Tycho Stahl, Partner at AGG and Dr. Oliver Schmidt, the program director for the Joachim Herz Foundation, said in their welcome notes that the key to a two-sided dialogue and understanding is the exchange of view, experiences, and practices. A program such as “Azubis Going USA” could help to increase awareness with the general public, the industries, and also among policy makers. The 38 guests discussed the next steps to implementing such a reciprocal exchange. Steady dialogue, they said, is of utmost importance when implementing and extending these programs.

On their own blog, the trainees share their experience in Atlanta.

Local media coverage of the program “Azubis Going USA”
Read: April 15, 2014 – U.S. Internships and German Apprenticeships Focus of Luncheon 
Read: April 11, 2014 – Atlanta Firms Provide Internships for German Apprentices 



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