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Tampa Bay Counties Partner with Germany for Student Apprentice Program

M.S. Butler

Not every high school student wants to or even needs to go to college, but graduating students without a college degree may have a hard time gaining entry or experience at companies hiring for high paying, high skilled jobs. A local program is trying to bring that experience to graduating students.

Seven years in the making, AMskills was designed to be a German style apprenticeship program where tenth grade students apply to get in, just like applying for a job, and train on the job while earning good money. After graduation, they have experience and sometimes a job waiting for them.

"We're always looking for a skilled workforce," JuergenBorsh, general consul for Germany,  said.  "This is one of the big obstacles when a decision is being made in a German company- where do we want to go and invest?"

Borsch said German businesses in the US want to expand their operations but they can't find enough workers who have the skills they need.

"I have learned here in Florida, I have been here for two years now, that many companies say
we would love to expand," Borsch said, "We could expand-- we need the people, and I hear this in so  many different fields."

Brett Bjornberg and Erik Carlson were trying to get a foot in the door for a job or summer internship with a local company when they wandered into a press conference for the American Manufacturing Skills Initiative (AMskills) at Marchman Technical College in Port Richey.

The two 17-year-old high school students looked a little intimidated as foreign dignitaries and state officials showed an intense interest in their job hunt.  And they have found the job search to be pretty tough.

"Yeah, significantly hard," Bjornberg said.  "But I think since I don't really have a college degree yet, or even high school finished, it makes it even... harder."

Carlson wants to find a job that is a stepping stone to his eventual goal but that's not easy.

"I'd actually like to work on the telescopes at the observatories as an optical engineer," said Carlson. "Finding jobs and what not to advance, that is really difficult in high school."

Brett and Erik are exactly who this program is aiming to reach.

If accepted to AMskills, they'll go to a town hall-style meeting with their parents, tour a local manufacturing company and go through a six week summer orientation that could be paid by a manufacturing company sponsor.

There, they would be able to make machines- a small silver machine with a black conveyor belt wrapped around a system of wheels that carries small pink pills to a clear box at the end. Then when it runs out of pills...it stops. It might seem simple enough of a contraption.

But, building it requires knowledge of something called mechatronics- a combination of mechanical, electrical engineering and computer numeric controls.

So Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties created AMskills, in partnership with the state of Florida and Germany, to help students get on-the-job-training and experience and help companies get the workers they need. They hope it will help workers, manufacturers and the economy.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam  checked out the program.

"I'm very excited by what I've seen," Putnam said. "Florida's economy has really been built on the pillars of construction, tourism and agriculture. And to diversify our economy and make it more sustainable and durable we really need a broader manufacturing base."

AMskills kicked off this summer with its first orientation session.

Sixteen-year-old Nick France is one of two students who earned a full scholarship to the six-week program and he has set his goals high.

Credit M.S. Butler
Nick France received a scholarship to the summer orientation session for AMskills

"For the summer program, definitely hope and expect to make it to the top ten,"France said.  "I would love to go further to the whole apprenticeship program."

He's young and these students can think big.

"Personally, I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur, so getting high up in the executive office would be fine for me," France said.


M.S. Butler joined WUSF in October, 2014 after becoming the first recipient of the Stephen Noble Intern Scholarship. A Bay Area resident since 1999, he became a full-time student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Fall 2012.He has written articles for the school newspaper The Crow’s Nest covering topics ranging from seasonal flu shots to students carrying guns on campus.
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