As the nation struggles to regain jobs, an unqualified labor force hinders recovery. Can we train Americans fast enough?
Eric Spiegel dwells in an alternate universe. The hulking 53-year-old Ohioan, a former Harvard University offensive tackle, follows the headlines from Washington about America's "jobless recovery" and the agonizingly high unemployment rate of 9.2 percent. But that's almost the mirror opposite of the problem that faces Spiegel, president of Siemens Corp., the U.S. subsidiary of the German engineering conglomerate. He has jobs galore to offer, more than 3,000 of them nationwide, but he can't find people with the skills to do them. He's not just looking for engineering Ph.D.'s, either. He needs hundreds of technicians, welders, and machinists. He has even hired a crew of headhunters to scour the nation for prospects. "We didn't have to do that a couple of years ago," he says. "But our human-resource managers are under a lot of pressure from the businesses to fill these positions."
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So, in September, Siemens is launching a new strategy that draws on a very old practice from its parent company in Germany: apprenticeships. In Charlotte, N.C., where Siemens is building the nation's largest gas-turbine plant and hopes to hire some 800 people next year, the company is opening a pilot program that will pluck non-college-track seniors from nearby Olympic High School; Siemens will pay them an hourly wage to work part-time and will also pay their way through a two-year college program at nearby Central Piedmont Community College.
Why? Because existing technical and vocational schools were not teaching the precision machining skills needed to make the steam turbines and electrical generators, says Mark Pringle, director of the company's operations in Charlotte. Mike Panigel, Siemens's chief of human resources, adds, "The bulk of the people, we'll end up employing; and to those who have not proved to have the necessary skills, we can at least say, 'You've been trained.'"