It almost felt like home when I walked through the glass revolving doors of the Berlin Intercontinental Hotel Monday. I did not want to make assumptions as my eyes traveled the wide open lobby. Actually, I was listening more than I was looking – listening for English-speakers – listening for a heart-felt Southern drawl! It only took me a public radio 30 seconds to find them!
I was greeted by Darren Segool, lead teacher on this special trip to Germany. Segool and 30 other North Carolina K-12 “Global Teachers” are here thanks to UNC – “The Center for International Understanding.” Their itinerary looks amazing – an introduction to the German education model, site visit to the Mercedes Benz Museum and a guided tour of a small energy-efficient village in the black forest region. I joined them Tuesday, on the first leg of their adventure, to the “Siemens Technik Academie” in Berlin where hundreds of students are trained a year.
There are more than 1,300 students at this Siemens educational training center in Berlin, its largest training center in the world. Martin Stockmann is responsible for Education and Training in this part of Germany. He says about 40,000 students a year apply for their on-site Associates program. Only 2,500 are selected! After two years at Siemens, the students move on to complete the last two years at a university. Stockmann says about 85% of them end up working for Siemens.
Kelly Denny is a teacher at Fox Road IB Magnet Elementary School in Wake County. She had plenty of questions for Siemens guides and students. Denny says she was impressed by how much students focused on teamwork. “They were efficient, effective, communicated, and no doubt about it, that is what they were expected to do,” said Denny.
One stop on our Siemens visit was to the Smart Grid Showroom. Marjorie Light teaches at the Early College High School at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). “This is so incredible,” said Light. She also was impressed at how seriously team work is encouraged and demanded. “If one person fails, it causes failure down the line,” said Light. “It’s about team work and not individuality.”
North Carolina is grapling with ways to lower the unemployment rate of young people. And there is an emphasis on training students, earlier, for careers in advanced manufacturing. Siemens – a world leader in Energy Sector innovation and other integrated technologies – was recognized by President Barack Obama as a role model for its vocational training. There is a training program at the Siemens Energy Hub in Charlotte. But can the German model really be replicated in the US? How much does “culture” play a role?
I hope to answer some of the many questions raised about teaching and training our future workforce. Germans have a term they use to describe the flexible, integration of skills developed and ability to help the young perform – “Handlungskompetenz.” Say it real fast! Time to pack and head home!