It’s no secret that when U.S. manufacturing companies want to start apprenticeship programs, they often look to Europe, where the apprenticeship model is an established part of the work culture.
The U.S. departments of Commerce, Labor and Education committed that informal idea-sharing to paper Thursday when they inked a joint declaration of intent with Switzerland to collaborate on apprenticeships.
The declaration “will provide a framework for the two countries to cooperate in such areas as work-based training, curriculum development, credential recognition, pathways to career development and the expansion of programs into new industry sectors,” the Commerce Department said in a statement.
The U.S. made a similar declaration with Germany in May.
Alongside Thursday's signing, 10 Swiss companies, including Burkhardt Compression, Mercuria Energy and ABB announced plans for new apprenticeship programs in the United States. Seven others, including Daetwyler Group, Nestle, and Pilatus Aircraft, announced they would expand existing apprenticeship programs.
Daetwyler Group, a Swiss-based supplier of precision machinery, has been running a Swiss-style apprenticeship program in the United States since 1995, providing training in mechatronics, tool and die and CNC machining. The company partners with Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., on its training.
Characteristics of Swiss apprenticeships include paid training beginning in high school that leads to a degree or credential, industry and government partnering with educational institutions and continuing education. Jason Kurvilla, spokesman for the Department of Labor said that the U.S. programs will be similar, with the exception that they will allow older workers.
Increasing apprenticeships has always been a priority of the Obama administration, said Kurvilla, but efforts ramped up early last year when Obama mentioned his goal of doubling the number of apprenticeship in the next five years to 375,000. “To date we’ve added about 50,000, so we're on track to meet that goal,” said Kurvilla.
This fall, said Kurvilla, the administration plans to announce $100 million in American Apprenticeship Grants between local workforce investment agencies and union and non-union workplaces.