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German American Apprenticeship Conference 2021

In her guest article, Astrid Friedrich, International Project Coordinator at the Chamber of Skilled Crafts of Southern Thuringia (HWK Southern Thuringia), reports on the first trip in the context of the BMBF-funded WiSoUSA project. The German project partners of this vocational education and training project were among the first travellers to re-enter the country after entry restrictions were lifted by the US side. The report shows how international vocational training cooperation can succeed under the current conditions.

VET project partners amongst the first to re-enter the US after the travel ban

On 9 November, the German American Apprenticeship Conference 2021 took place in Washington. The HWK Southern Thuringia was represented at the conference as a consortium partner of a US project, which was launched this summer within the framework of the BMBF’s guideline for the “Promotion of implementation projects of organisations of the economic and social partners within the framework of international vocational training cooperation – WiSoVET”, together with partners from the AHK Chicago, the AHK New York and the AHK Atlanta.

The Apprenticeship Conference served both as an exchange platform for questions and solutions on the topic of vocational training in the USA, especially with the support of the foreign chambers of commerce, and as the official start of the three-year WiSoVET joint project together with the Chamber of Crafts of Southern Thuringia.

The date of the conference fell on the second day after the official lifting of the travel ban, which had been in place since March 2020 and had also prevented many families from meeting each other in person for almost a year and a half. Upon arrival at Washington Dulles Airport, reporters from all the well-known media were waiting to receive the first travellers from abroad and to interview them about their experiences.

Arrival at Washington Dulles Airport.

A hybrid conference in the heart of Washington

The conference itself took place in the Historic Duncan House in the immediate vicinity of the White House, so to speak, which did justice to the importance of the topic of vocational education and training for the development of the USA as a business location. The programme was supported by all important actors from the field of VET cooperation and VET. A total of about 80 participants attended virtually and 40 participants attended in person.

The event was opened by Dietmar Rieg, President and CEO of the German American Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Emily Haber, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the USA, then spoke and praised the activities of both countries in the area of vocational education and training cooperation.

Dr. Emily Haber, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the USA

This years’ GACC Apprenticeship Award

Another highlight was the award ceremony of the GACC Apprenticeship Award, which this time was presented to Seyer Industries. Mr. Dave Sweda, Talent Development and Safety Manager at Seyer Industries accepted the award. In his acceptance speech, he emphasised the importance of dual apprenticeships based on the German model in an industry where the highest quality is an absolute prerequisite of the job.

The presentation of the award to Seyer Industries by Mark Tomkins, President and CEO, GACC Midwest

Hybrid conference – hybrid panel discussions

The conference was held in a hybrid format, so the welcoming remarks by Alexander Hochradel, representing the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research were broadcast via screen. The conference room was well suited for a hybrid event, so that virtual contributions also came across well, as was shown afterwards in three panel discussions: In particular, the first discussion panel on the topic of “Long-term strategies for workforce development”, moderated by Mario Kratsch, Vice President GACC Midwest, showed that hybrid formats are well suited even for panel discussions. Hannes Barske, Head of the Internationalisation of Vocational Education and Training Department at the DLR Project Management Agency, joined the discussion via screen transmission from Germany.

David Langdon (Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Commerce), Brent Parton (Senior Advisor for Workforce, Department of Labor, Moderator Mario Kratsch (Vice President GACC Midwest)

Auf dem Bildschirm Hannes Barske (DLR Projektträger, Leiter der Abteilung „Internationalisierung der Berufsbildung“)

On the screen Hannes Barske (DLR Project Management Agency, Head of the “Internationalisation of Vocational Education and Training” Department)

During the panel discussion, it became apparent that the panellists on both the German and the American side agreed on the importance of standardised and sound vocational training for the development of a sustainable pool of qualified workers. The American government is increasingly focusing on vocational training and wants to counteract the trend towards academisation with attractive training models and career options. This positive attitude will open up further options for cooperation with German partners in VET cooperation.

The second panel discussion on “Cooperation of Community Colleges, Employers and Intermediaries” was moderated by Rachel Mauer (President at the German American Chamber of Commerce, Pittsburgh Chapter). She welcomed the following panelists:

  • Kathy Meisinger (Director, Strategic Partnerships & Experiential Learning, Elgin Community College), Aaron Fichtner (President, New Jersey Council of County Colleges),
  • Dave Sweda (Talent Development and Safety Manager, Seyer Industries) and
  • Sam Osten (President, Impact Guard LLC)

Together they spoke about the benefits and challenges for VET partners in the US, especially during and after the pandemic. The importance of government support for training was repeatedly mentioned as a key factor.

Das Diskussionspanel „Cooperation of Community Colleges, Employers and Intermediaries“

The discussion panel “Cooperation of Community Colleges, Employers and Intermediaries”

The last panel, moderated by Matthew Allen from GACC New York on “Green cross-sector apprenticeships for a sustainable future” showed particularly clearly how important sustainable and needs-based training is for new sectors, especially the green economy. The topic of attracting interested and suitable apprentices was particularly exciting here.

First in-person meeting of the project team of WiSoUSA

After the official programme, the project team of the BMBF-funded project “WiSoUSA” met for a working discussion on the project status and the status of the individual work packages.

From left to right: Astrid Friedrich (HWK Southern Thuringia), Sascha Alexander Kuhn (AHK Chicago), Matthew Allen (AHK New York), Cindy Klarwasser (AHK New York), Tobias Bolle (KIBB), Scott Schrein (AHK Atlanta), Mario Kratsch (AHK Chicago)

After almost five months of online events, a face-to-face meeting with the project team was very helpful in order to get to know each other and to compare the status of the individual work packages. The project is well on schedule and on budget despite the more difficult implementation conditions due to the pandemic. The next work steps have been coordinated and the flow of information between the partners is very positive. The project WiSoUSA is accompanied by the SCIVET coordination office that also supports the project part of the crafts sector. The Chamber of Skilled Crafts of Southern Thuringia also uses the SCIVET strategy kit for project planning and implementation as well as the SCIVET expert kit.

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