Are German-Style Apprenticeships the Answer?

Originally appeared in NH Business Review

By Liisa Rajala

Three years ago, Andover residents Pecco Beaufays and Ken Wells were doing some brainstorming about New Hampshire’s workforce and education challenges. Highland Lake Innkeeper Beaufays and then-Representative candidate Wells shared their perspectives on the linkage between the generational poverty and school funding issues that are so widespread in rural New Hampshire.

Ken, a lifelong teacher with German roots, and Pecco, a graduate of the German dual education system, agreed they could develop a high school-based, employer-paid vocational school and apprenticeship program for NH, in cooperation with the German Consulate in Boston and the German-American Chamber of Commerce in New York City. Together, they hosted a meeting of 35 New Hampshire industry and government stakeholders at the “First Andover Dialogue” on March 06, 2020. Franklin City Councilwoman Jo Brown was immediately intrigued, and asked if a pilot project could be developed for Franklin. Three years and many Zoom meetings later, the great progress toward realizing their vision was described in this way by the NH Business Review:

Alerting young people to career opportunities in manufacturing has been the goal of employers and educators in New Hampshire for several years.

Many school districts have been addressing this need by holding manufacturing events, aiming to align students with employers. But these events alone haven’t sealed the deal.

So Franklin High School, together with Lakes Region Community College and NH Forward — a new industry-educational nonprofit — is taking a different approach to building a career pipeline: a manufacturing apprenticeship program based on the model used in Germany.

The concept is starting to take shape this year, as two dozen Franklin High upperclassmen began taking college-level machine tool math and blueprint reading courses. Their instructor is Joseph Smith, department chair of Advanced Manufacturing and Electrical Technologies at Lakes Region Community College, who is also training Franklin High teachers to take on the courses.

Under the program, students will first take four college-level courses while in high school and job-shadow and tour local manufacturers. The next step is partnering with an employer who would commit to paying for a high schooler’s associate degree as they train as an apprentice and become a future employee.

NH Forward is enlisting the German American Chamber of Commerce, Inc., which could provide training for employers and Lakes Region Community College.

Labor demands
Before training can begin, NH Forward needs to confirm which area employers are participating.

“One of the things we’re envisioning is this would be an industry-sponsored program,” said Ken Wells, executive director of NH Forward and a former High School science teacher.

Many manufacturers already provide tuition reimbursement to their employees, said Smith of LRCC. A sponsored apprenticeship would require them to pay upfront for developing a skilled employee.

The idea for such a program is in response to five local manufacturers’ labor demands, which were brought to light at a manufacturing night held at Franklin High School in November 2019. The need to engage students earlier also became apparent after the Community College System of New Hampshire received U.S. Department of Labor grants to fund apprenticeships but received little interest.

Incidents like these have exposed the underwhelming response from students to pursue careers in manufacturing.

It’s clear that industry leaders and educators must rethink how to advertise those careers to students, said Wells. To on-ramp students, the target age must be younger, he said.

“If you look at the materials the seven community colleges put out, the median age of their students is 26 to 29 years old,” said Wells. “These kids today are not leaving high school with the idea of stepping in and continuing their education at the community college level.”

Smith, whose students at LRCC are in their 30s and 40s, agreed. His average student has already started in the manufacturing field and is looking to upskill. “I don’t actually see a lot of younger students right out of high school,” he said.

But providing students — who often come from low-income households — the opportunity to get a degree debt-free and pursue a career is a more appealing way to grab their attention and resolve a rising workforce shortage.

Pecco Beaufays, a founding member of NH Forward and owner of the Highland Lake Inn, personally experienced the benefits of the hospitality apprenticeship pathway in Austria.

“I was one of these kids sitting in school thinking, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’” said Beaufays, recalling his love for cooking over traditional school work. Embarking on an apprenticeship program led to a successful career managing the North and South American Lufthansa Luxury Hotels out of New York City.

It was Beaufays who initiated contact with the German American Chamber of Commerce Inc. and the German Consulate General of New England, who are coordinating to support the skills needs of Franklin.

“New Hampshire state representatives and the local business community in New Hampshire approached the consulate and clearly voiced to us that businesses and local communities face certain challenges when it comes to workforce retainment and onboarding,” said Consul General Nicole Menzenbach. “We were persistent in making a stand for New Hampshire, because I felt an incredible bipartisan will and sincere commitment from the political and business side to not only offer opportunities for young people, but to build and support healthy and strong communities.”

NH Forward hopes, with the German American Chamber’s training, the Franklin pilot program will serve as a model for the state.

‘Center of the conversation’

Why enlist the German American Chamber’s help?

“You need this structure from an organization that has the experience behind it,” argued Beaufays.

The Chamber has seen growing interest in apprenticeships across the U.S. over the past 10 years, as presidential administrations sought partnerships with German industry to resolve the skills gap.

“Apprenticeships are a valuable tool for developing meaningful career paths directly out of high school,” said Matthew Allen, director of careers and education at the German American Chamber of Commerce Inc. “We have had success in tracking high school students into highly skilled occupations in many other states already.”

In fact, Allen is familiar with moving on to identify students in middle school as potential candidates, when they come of age.

The organization stays engaged with apprentices throughout the program, taking care that they succeed academically and on the job.

He is ready to get to work, but is currently waiting to hear from New Hampshire employers. (Smith of LRCC said a few have expressed interest, and the German Consulate General of New England has reached out to some nearby German manufacturers, who are often more familiar with this approach.)

“For us, the employer is always at the center of the conversation. We can’t start a program like this without a really forward-looking host company,” said Allen. “If a company realizes this is where they need to be putting their investment, it’s going to be a success. It has to come from the top, but it also has to be implemented by the skilled workers at the organization.”

Ideally, an employer has a skilled employee who has been with the company for several years and plans to stick around for another 10 to 15 years. The Chamber will train these individuals on all aspects of mentorship.

While many think of apprenticeship training as mainly acquiring the technical instruction for operating a machine, in Germany, comprehensive career training also includes knowledge of other departments of the company, including HR and finance, and development of soft skills, such as proper communication.

This allows apprentices to “understand the processes so they’re mindful of what happens in these different areas and grow to be a more meaningful contributor to the company,” said Allen. Also, “What we learned is a higher-skill program is much more motivating for a young person,” increasing enrollment in the program.

The Chamber would also train instructors at LRCC to ensure students meet all required competencies in order to receive an internationally-recognized certificate at the end of their training. While obtaining an associate degree and certification, students will first job-shadow and then earn a wage as their apprenticeship progresses to more hands-on work, before becoming an employee. (Employers could require that the employees remain at the business for at least two years.)

“This is an excellent time for employers to take a leadership role in developing new training programs to support their needs and the community,” said Allen.

“We strongly believe that the German style apprenticeship system offers real solutions” to “address a short-term skills need” and provide “long-term career perspectives,” said Consul General Menzenbach. “It offers great opportunities to not only students, manufacturers and businesses, but also and equally important, it offers opportunities to communities.”

Economic impact

NH Forward’s advisory committee includes Franklin Savings Bank CEO Ron Magoon and Ken Merrifield, commissioner of the state Department of Labor and a former mayor of Franklin.

Magoon foresees a wide-reaching impact if manufacturers are able to grow, more young people stay in Franklin, and incomes and property values rise.

“I’ve heard a number of times how difficult it is to find skilled help at some of the local manufacturers. You have companies right here in New Hampshire that I’m sure could get their businesses to the next level — they’re just lacking skilled employees. That hurts the economy more than anything,” said Magoon.

The potential of this program to lift young people out of a cycle of poverty and provide a career path would change their lives dramatically, Magoon said.

Wells and Beaufays of NH Forward also hope the program will put New Hampshire on the map as having a globally recognized, highly trained workforce that attracts further international manufacturing investments.

According to a report by Plymouth State University, 7.7% of the state’s total private sector employment comes from foreign-owned firms, ranking New Hampshire third in the nation.

Workforce development is a sticking point for German manufacturers looking for a U.S. presence, said Consul General Menzenbach.

“Manufacturers will delay investment if they are uncertain that their labor needs will be met. Investors chose locations that are known for a skilled workforce and that offer proximity to infrastructure and education hubs,” she said.

“In the global economy, our companies here in New Hampshire need to be competitive,” said Tina Kasim, program manager at the New Hampshire Office of International Commerce. “Knowing that they have a trained workforce coming through a pipeline assures continued growth and opportunity.”

The German American Chambers of Commerce have been working across the country to tackle these issues as well.

“Throughout the U.S., there are pockets of high quality manufacturing,” said. Allen. “We want to support them and make sure they have access to the skilled workers they need to stay in their communities.” Liisa Rajala can be reached at

Editor: This article was reprinted with permission from the NH Business Review.