For high-tech manufacturers and companies, a pipeline of highly skilled talent is essential for long-term growth and profitability. But U.S. manufacturers are facing a serious shortage of workers equipped with the skills they need most; according to one study, the skills gap will lead to 2 million unfilled jobs in the industry by 2025.

Following the Example of German Apprenticeship Programs

The ICATT Apprenticeship Program is leading the charge to address this challenge, partnering with companies and community colleges to identify vital competencies and optimize training plans for ICATT Network Companies. The program is founded on the principles of the German Dual Education System, which is well-respected worldwide for combining classroom instruction, hands-on learning, and company-specific knowledge.

Manufacturing makes up nearly a quarter of the German economy, around double what it is in the U.S. Germany’s substantial apprenticeship programs deserve much of the credit for the country’s manufacturing success and robust industrial workforce. Approximately half a million Germans enter the workforce through these programs every year.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure

The ICATT Apprenticeship Program has adapted the German model to be effective in the U.S. and a key aspect of this is ICATT Apprenticeship Program exams.

These comprehensive exams, usually administered after the second and third year of the apprenticeship, are unique among apprenticeship programs in the U.S. They help companies measure the competencies their apprentices have learned. Based on German exams and modified by the ICATT Exam Board, the tests contain both written and practical sections.

The practical exams aim to present the apprentices with a complex task that they have to complete in a given timeframe – a situation which directly reflects real world needs, even if the project itself is different. For example, in the months leading up to the exam, ICATT Apprentices in the Advanced Manufacturing Technician program prefabricate a number of components. On the day of the exam, they are given a blueprint of the final assembly. Within 6 hours, each test taker must fabricate additional components and use them to construct the final product.

This assembly from a past exam included milling, turning, drilling, thread tapping, filing and more. With sliding, rotating, and fixed components, the apprentices’ work must be accurate for the assembly to function.

With exam results, employers can identify strengths and weaknesses, determine where additional training may be needed, and work to improve their training methods as well.

“Quality is extremely important to the modern manufacturing industry. Just as successful companies wouldn’t send a part out to a customer without testing it first, they recognize that testing enables quality control for their apprenticeship program as well,” Mario Kratsch, Spokesperson of the ICATT Apprenticeship Program.

Through the ICATT program, apprentices develop technical competencies, critical thinking abilities, and interpersonal skills. When they complete the program, they have already adjusted to the company culture, proven their technical skills, and started on a path toward a well-paid, high-demand career.

Learn more about the benefits of the ICATT Apprenticeship Program.