After a worldwide bribery scandal rocked the company in 2006, Peter Solmssen came to Siemens to help the organization clean house. Mr. Solmssen and the new management team set a new gold standard of ethics, banning in absolute terms any kind of bribery, despite fears that the company would lose business in countries where bribery is considered routine. He's speaking on a panel on transparency today along with Nobel Peace Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus.
But today, Mr. Solmssen, a Philadelphia native, sat down to talk to me about something totally different: apprenticeships. If you're like me, the word evokes images of blacksmiths and carpenters. It seems, I don't know, antiquated? But in Germany, a robust apprenticeship program is training workers for highly skilled manufacturing jobs.
Here's how it works: Siemens recruits high school graduates and educates them with a combination of university coursework and in-house training. The plus? It both underwrites their training and pays them while they're getting their certifications. And then, they have no obligation to go work for Siemens, though most do. It costs more than $100,000 per trainee annually.
Siemens has a two-year-old pilot program in Charlotte, N.C., where workers are being trained for employment in the company's gas turbine factory, housed in a former Westinghouse facility. The trainees take math and physics classes at a local community college.
Mr. Solmssen said an apprenticeship program in the United States could solve a lot of the country's woes simultaneously. Young people are looking for well-paying jobs that don't require them to take on massive college debt. And it could be the United States' shot at finally reviving manufacturing.
"In the United States, since the GI Bill, there's a huge emphasis on higher education, and that's a good thing," he said. "But we got a bit of a mismatch between what people need and what they're being offered."
For example, Mr. Solmssen said, perhaps a state trooper doesn't need a four-year degree, nor the debt that comes with it.
(Top photo: Peter Solmssen. Moriah Balingit/Post-Gazette)