“Too many people are checked out of even looking for a job,” said Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Randall Woodfin, who travelled to northwest Germany to look for solutions for young Americans. “The apprenticeship track gives people hope.” (REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman)
Randall Woodfin, the young mayor of Birmingham, Ala., unseated a popular incumbent last year partly on a promise to bring in jobs.
But one year in, the city’s youth unemployment rate remained high, and Woodfin was casting about for solutions.
That brought him this past fall to the boardroom of software company abat AG, which is based in Bremen, Germany.
Woodfin was there in the northwestern city to observe Germany’s famed apprenticeship model up close and potentially persuade German companies to offer apprenticeship slots in Birmingham.
“Too many people are checked out of even looking for a job,” Woodfin said. “They need hope. And the apprenticeship track gives people hope.”
Mayors and governors of both parties tout German-style apprenticeships as an alternative pathway to employment, in the face of ballooning college tuition and the need for career options for noncollege graduates.
Support for increasing hands-on training comes from all corners — Democrats and Republicans, business and labor, the Trump and the Obama administrations. German Chancellor Angela Merkel even offered to support more apprenticeship slots in the U.S. with German companies during trade talks with President Trump.
Fascination with Germany’s apprenticeship model comes at a time when Germany itself is showing signs of fatigue with its own system and adopting a more-American college-based approach.
In 2016, about 52 percent of German high-school graduates became apprentices, down from roughly two-thirds 20 years ago. At the same time, 57 percent of high school graduates started college, up from about one-third two decades earlier.
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