More students sign on with Georgia’s ‘German apprentice’ program

It’s still tiny but Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's program to grow Georgia’s skilled workforce with German-style apprenticeships is now in its second year.

The Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training started this time last year with six high school sophomores. On Monday, another 21 signed their intent to complete the dual-enrollment program. They’ll earn a diploma, an associate’s degree, an industrial mechanic’s credential and maybe even a job with their mentor.

“This guy, in five or 10 years, could be the backbone of my company,” said John Michalewicz, a senior manager at a Newnan plant that makes construction wheel loaders.

He was explaining why his company, KCMA Corp., was investing time and money in McKinley Hutcheson, 15. The student at Northgate High School in Coweta County will study at the Central Educational Center, a joint-venture between the Coweta County School System and West Georgia Technical College. He will have a mentor from KCMA who will advise him on school projects and ease him into the factory next year. (Federal labor regulations prohibit 15-year-olds in industrial settings, but Cagle’s trying to change that.)

McKinley will learn about hydraulics, pneumatics, welding, gears and drivetrains while taking the standard high school load. He’ll have to study through summer breaks to finish within three years.

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He is motivated by the prospect of a job right after high school, not to mention earning $8 an hour while still in school. That’s how much one of his predecessors in the program told him he was earning. “He said we get paid to go to school,” McKinley said.

Georgia’s technical workforce is aging and KCMA, like the more than two dozen other companies that have signed on as mentors, wants to train a new generation to keep the machines running.

As in other states, Georgia is reportedly facing a shortage of young, technically skilled workers. Like other states, Georgia is investing in worker training, but is the first in the country to start with students this young. It’s a fulfillment of one of Cagle’s educational visions, with roots in the 2011 legislation that established high school college and career academies. 

It was created in partnership with the German-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern United States, and is based on German standards.

This year, it is expanding from West Georgia Technical College to Georgia Piedmont Technical College and Southern Crescent Technical College, with four school districts involved, in Newton, Griffin, Rockdale and Coweta counties.

Cagle, a GOP hopeful for governor, wants it to grow across the state.

Stefanie Jehlitschka, president of the local German-American Chamber, suggested there is plenty of unmet demand.

“In Germany,”  she told the students and parents gathered under the Gold Dome Monday, “you would be one, or 20, of 1.5 million training per year.”

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