Southwest Florida Roundup
German accent: Apprenticeship program modeled after one in Germany
A Tampa Bay initiative models a new apprenticeship program after one in Germany.
In 2011, Siemens consolidated its North American operations for making gas turbines at a $350-million factory in Charlotte, N.C. It was a win for North Carolina, but a loss for Florida: The German company moved about 50 jobs tied to gas turbine manufacturing out of Orlando.
Among other things, Charlotte offered a German-style apprenticeship program that combines classroom education and on-the-job training to ensure workers are appropriately skilled for jobs at Siemens and other participating firms.
Last November, Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey introduced the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing Skills Initiative, an effort to replicate Germany's — and Charlotte's — success in pairing young, qualified workers with local industries. Supported by $2.35 million in state and local funding, the program will begin this summer with about 50 high school students in Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
Starkey helped organize trips to Germany in 2008 and 2013 with local business, government and school leaders to see how the apprenticeships work. "We know through our German partners that many companies looking to move manufacturing to the U.S. have not been looking at Florida because we're not known as a manufacturing state," she says. "We think this type of training will be a great economic development tool."
Student apprentices will start as high school juniors and receive four years of hands-on manufacturing education at training centers throughout the region. Participating firms will sponsor the apprentices and pay them hourly wages. At the end, they'll have a postsecondary degree from a state college and industry-recognized certifications.
"As a manufacturer, one of our biggest problems is talent. Our growth is limited by the talent we can find," says Peter Buczynsky, president of Pharmaworks, which produces automated equipment in Pasco County for the pharmaceutical packaging industry and is participating in the program.
"A lot of what's missing today is practical, hands-on skills," says Buczynsky, "and that's what this program is all about."