German American Apprenticeship Midwest Chicago Industry

By Hanna Goeckeler, GACC Midwest

Schattdecor is sending their Mechatronics Technician apprenticeship graduate Jack Jerden to visit their facilities in Germany. We spoke to him and his Trainer Doug Voss about Jack’s experience as an ICATT apprentice!

Interviewer: Thank you again for meeting with me today. Let’s talk about Jack’s upcoming trip to Germany. What a great opportunity! How did you decide to do an apprenticeship, and what was your application process with Schattdecor like?

Jack: I had just graduated high school, and I didn’t want to go down the traditional route of going to college and acquiring debt but didn’t want to go to the military either. My father-in-law is an electrician, so I was aware of the trades and started looking for apprenticeships. I applied to a posting by Schattdecor, and after an interview process, they hired me.

Interviewer: Doug, what are you looking for in an apprentice?

Doug: One of the biggest things is a willingness to learn. I’ve come across people who bring a lot of their own knowledge or even look things up on Youtube! (laughs) When Jack came in, he told me, “I don’t know any of this,” and I said, “You’re the guy I want, because you don’t have any of the bad habits!” Someone who is willing to learn and doesn’t bring any preconceived notions is great, because we can teach them from the ground up. Even if they have a foundation, we can help them get where they need to be if they’re willing to learn.

Interviewer: What did you expect before you started your apprenticeship? Was it anything like what you expected?

Jack: To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t have any experience with the trades. (laughs) Here, I learned the blueprint of everything. It was a great start, for sure. We do welding, machining, electrical, mechanical—You get to do everything. It’s very useful, and you learn a lot!

Interviewer: Why is Schattdecor sending you to Germany now?

Doug: It’s kind of a tradition after you graduate. Our parent company is in Germany, and they have a—I forget the word—it’s kind of a baptism, a ritual party for all the graduates. But it’s also an opportunity to train with them in Germany for three weeks. You get to learn how they do things and bring something back here to help us. That’s the biggest thing for us, I think.

Interviewer: What do you think you’ll learn? Anything that seems particularly interesting to you?

Jack: I know they have a lot of machines there! Maybe they’ll show me some of the programming side. I don’t know German, so that’s the biggest obstacle! (laughs) I’m sure they have a training regimen they’ll put me through and show me a little bit of everything.

Interviewer: I heard your former trainer is in Germany. Will you meet him?

Jack: Definitely! He’ll probably be the one picking me up from the airport.

Interviewer: What do you think your future at Schattdecor holds? Could you imagine being a trainer?

Jack: Definitely! We already talked about it. I want to learn to work with the machines as best as I can. There are new challenges every day, and that means you learn a new thing every day. I have another two years here for sure, but Schattdecor is a good company. Hopefully, I can stay here.

Interviewer: What did your parents say about your choice to do an apprenticeship?

Jack: I went through the application process on my own, so afterwards, I went to them and said, “Hey, I got a job!” They were very supportive and involved. I mean, what did I know? I had just graduated high school and signed a contract. They were very happy for me, had my back, and made sure this was the right choice for me. My dad worked at a printing place when he was younger, so he was kind of familiar with the machines I am working with now.

Interviewer: Do you have a message for parents whose children are considering doing an apprenticeship?

Jack: I think it’s the better way to go, honestly. You get an associate degree with practical experience, you don’t put yourself in debt, and you start building a career right out the gate. I wish they had pushed it more when I was in high school.

Doug: When I was growing up, the only kind of apprenticeships I knew about were through the trades union. You had to know somebody. I put myself in a lot of debt going through college and choosing the wrong career and then finally finding an apprenticeship and going to trade school. A program like ICATT is absolutely amazing. You come out of it with your degree, certifications, and multiple years of experience. That sets you up for life. The way we teach our apprentices, they can branch out to just about anywhere they want to go from there.

Interviewer: How do you think the future of apprenticeships at Schattdecor looks like?

Doug: I’m hopeful we’ll continue hiring apprentices. I’d love to continue with bringing new people in and getting kind of a rotation going. I hate to say it, but some of these trades are dying out. A lot of the older guys are retiring, and there’s not as many young people stepping into them, because they don’t really talk about it in high school. They push going to college and having an office job.

Jack: There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for everybody. Some people graduate high school and don’t know what do to. So, they end up joining the military or finding a job they hate.

Interviewer: What benefits has integrating apprenticeships brought to Schattdecor?

Doug: On the more corporate side, the benefits for us are getting younger people into the trades and being able to train them from not knowing a whole lot to working with absolutely any machine in the building. And it might be a little selfish, but we get to have them for five years. (laughs)

Interview: Do you have any final remarks?

Jack: Push apprenticeships to younger people. You’d be surprised how many there are that are looking for something like this.

Doug: When I was young, I was told you need a degree to have a good job. Showing people that apprenticeships are an option is important. This is a well-paying field, and the sky’s the limit.