In June, I noted a trip that Minnesota education officials, politicians and others were taking to Germany to check out its dual-education system.
Now that they’re back, I sat down with Mary Rothchild, who was on the eight-day trip. She’s the director for strategic partnerships and workforce development for MnSCU, so this is right up her alley.
The group spent most of its time in Stuttgart and focused on the automotive and auto parts industry, touring factories and speaking with officials from education, business and unions.
For those unfamiliar with the German model for vocational education, here’s the simple explanation:
In Germany, industry, unions, government and schools work together to create a system of courses and apprenticeships that feeds students into the skilled trades at an early age. Students are assessed in elementary school on whether they have an aptitude for a university education or a career in the trades. Those who go into the trades receive years of both classroom education and apprenticeship training before entering their professions.
Critics accuse the system of being overly rigid — essentially trapping some students in the trades when they might be late bloomers who show academic promise later on.
But advocates say it’s model of social partnership between state and industry. It produces highly skilled, well-paid workers who are productive — and famous for their high-quality work.
(Think of German engineering here.)
I’ll get to a few specifics in a later post, but for now I’ll say that Rothchild was largely impressed:
“Germans still value skilled tradespeople. They create a level of acceptance and quality and wages. We’re the ones who marginalize skilled trades — not the Germans. (Germans would say) ‘We might be kind of rigid, but frankly it’s better for the student because they like hands-on learning — and we pay them a liveable wage, give them free health care, and we pay for their education. So what’s wrong with that?’ And I’d have to agree.”