For 100 years, and still going strong, the German apprenticeship program has been a successful tool in providing precise training that manufacturing companies need.
So, when CLAAS Omaha Inc.. joined another German company with operations in Omaha to become the first companies in the state to participate in the German Dual Study Apprenticeship Program, it wasn’t by chance. CLAAS of America Inc. is a division of a German-based company that globally employs 11,000 and manufactures equipment for the agriculture industry.
“This program has been the backbone of the German economy,” explains Matthias Ristow, president of CLAAS Omaha Inc. “They must be doing something right. So we adapted this program to our local needs. It’s a high standard of learning.”
ICATT Apprenticeship Program
The program called, ICATT Apprenticeship, which was established by the German American Chamber of Commerce, is a dual study work-based education model that combines classwork with on-the-job practical experience.
The type of training and the practical aspect appealed to Ristow who said he is looking for people who are problem solvers. “We are trying to inject some additional skills on our assembly line so we are focusing on creative thinking,” said Ristow.
Finding talent isn’t just looking outside the plant. “the ICATT program can upskill the current workforce,” says Deb Franklin, vice president Human Resources North America at CLAAS.
“It offers a career path providing globally recognized certification which is quite valuable,” says Franklin.
And investing in employees is a commitment that is appreciated. “I like to give the example of a trainee that eventually went onto a director role and said, ‘I have invested in CLAAS and they have invested in me’” Franklin said.
This career path is exactly the route CLAAS desires. “By bringing in someone right of out of high school, we have three years to prove to them that this is a stable company and we can provide a future," says Ristow. “If they have completed three years, passed the test and earned the ICATT degree we want to keep them in the company and offer them employment and a future. It’s a win-win situation.”
Outreach to Community
To ensure that area residents know about the company’s career path at CLAAS, they open their doors and invite students in. On Manufacturing Day in 2018, they had 250 students view their facilities. “As unemployment is very low in our area, 2.8% to 3%, we, like everyone, struggle to find talent,” says Franklin. “We reach out to parents, counselors, and schools at the middle and high school level. In fact, we have a program where teachers tour our plant to see what types of jobs we offer.”
Expanding the vision of teachers is important as it opens up the field of manufacturing to those that might not have considered manufacturing a career.
However, it’s not just teachers, who need to have an expanded view explains Ristow. “Executives need to understand that if you have fixed in your mind that you can only hire people with experience in your own field, that is an archaic way of thinking. We know that not everyone has a background in agriculture, so we hire people based on their capabilities and teach them about agriculture.“
Another program the company uses is the U.S Department of Labor apprenticeship training program. The company is working with Metropolitan Community College (MCC) who administers the program.
MCC has a strong track record in workforce development and has built partnerships with Con Agra, Seldin Corp and Structural Components and others. In 2018 the college had 31 businesses participate in its programs.
Skills provided include 3D printing, robots, automated systems, coding, business analytics, prototype design, cybersecurity, data center management and drones.
“Our program flips the traditional model of schools that train for specific skills and send the students out to get jobs,” explains Tammy Green, director of Workforce & IT Innovation: Career Skils & Adult Education at MCC. “We work directly with businesses to identify what their hiring needs are and what open positions they have right now and then we create a curriculum as well as a placement program."
Their philosophy fits in perfectly with the goals of the apprenticeship program which is to ensure that students are learning the exact skills that are needed for manufacturing in general and then specific company needs.
As far as the source of students, it’s varied. Aside from those who choose to attend MCC and then enter the apprenticeship program, candidates also come from those earning GEDs, and from a variety of social service agencies or placement services that serve populations that have barriers to finding jobs.
“We serve populations that have issues such as transportation, homelessness and other barriers to finding jobs," says Green. "What is neat about what we are doing is that not only do we identify the skills and provide career readiness certification, but we can provide other skills such as math, graphic literacy, workplace document understanding, reading and writing skills and then match students with jobs in the community.”
This program offers a holistic and inclusive approach to job training.
“We weed in, rather than weed out,” says Green. “If they don’t have the skills to us that’s just a training opportunity. We will upskill and spend extra time making sure they learn what they need to and then move into an open position. Our onsite career coach makes sure we provide students with all the skills necessary to be successful.”
Another group represented at MCC is English language learners. They have 2800 students in the program. “For companies like CLAAS, the ability of these students to speak different languages is a huge benefit to the company,” says Green.
Understanding languages offers insight into a culture, and that value is prized at CLAAS. “One of the advantages our company can offer is that it’s family-owned and is 106 years old. We are in the third generation of ownership. And since we are private our financial decisions based on generations not quarterly reports. This stability appeals to employees,” says Franklin.
“We have the luxury of thinking more long-term than publicly- traded companies and this helps us when we need to make tough decisions,” says Ristow. “For example, three years ago when production was low in our industry and our competitors were laying off thousands of employees, we didn’t lay off anyone. We clearly understand the difficulties of finding qualified people in a market with low unemployment so we made sure we kept our employees and explained this to the corporate office who supported us.”
The company used that low production time to train employees. They had almost 700 classes and even outsourced people to other companies in the area that might need help. Workers' wages stayed the same and not one person left the company at that time.
This core value of training continues as the company is currently building a separate training facility to not only train people for their facility but also people who can help their dealerships.
“We know that when we train people we won’t retain everyone, but at the end of the day it’s a smart move even if someone might take those skills elsewhere thinking the grass is greener,” says Ristow. “That’s wonderful, let them get experience and realize that CLAAS is an amazing place to work and come back. I’ll roll out the red carpet to welcome them.”
He welcomes people into his company as he never forgets the importance of his work. “In 2020, there are 7.8 billion people that need to be fed and we are part of that.”