North Carolina’s manufacturing story is old and complicated. In just the past decade, the state has seen many traditional manufacturing operations shut down, devastating tens of thousands of workers and their families.
But this decade has also witnessed the growth of a new kind of manufacturing. Next Generation manufacturing is cleaner and more nimble and requires highly-skilled workers. And you have to start early building a talented workforce.
In some ways, it looked like any school field trip. Names were called and checked off a list.
“If you could come up in the order that I call you so I can give you your visitor’s badge," called out Meredith Henderson, group leader on the trip.
But these North Carolina Public School teachers were on a special field trip, sponsored by The Center for International Understanding at UNC. They’re in Berlin, Germany, thousands of miles away from home.
“So Margo, and then it will be Andrea and then Carrie. We’re going basically alphabetically order by last name.”
Check Out Leoneda Inge's Blog "Berlin to Brussels."
The teachers were visiting the Siemens Professional Education Center. The German company is a pioneer in advanced manufacturing and in training workers right out of high school for jobs of the future.
Annah Creech is a sixth grade Math teacher at Clayton Middle School in Johnston County.
“There’s a whole other world out there. If they’re gonna be a part of that world then they need to be aware of it, learn other cultures, and appreciate other cultures," said Creech.
Creech says that won’t be easy.
“And having sixth graders they have a hard time thinking to next week, much less what they want their careers to be," said Creech. "But that’s what I am encouraging them, is to start thinking.”
That’s the message the state of North Carolina is impressing upon teachers, students and elected officials. The benefits of manufacturing are broad and changing.
“Well I think manufacturing actually is alive and well in North Carolina," said Diane Cherry.
Diane Cherry is a policy manager at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State. She says manufacturing today is very different than it was 20 to 30 years ago.
“Manufacturing in the past, I think people have an image of smoke, and sort of dirty, the smudgy faces, and the dirty polluting industry. And that’s not manufacturing of today," said Cherry.
The Siemens Professional Education Center in Berlin was spotless. Students working in labs and on machinery wore matching uniforms. Once selected for the program, they are paid a salary to learn and work for the next two years.
Martin Stockmann heads Siemens Professional Education in northern Germany. He says business and government leaders from around the world visit their program. I asked Stockmann if their dual system of work and education could be duplicated.
“Yes, it could be that you can copy some of the elements of our German education system, but not the whole part, because it’s a very traditional system, based on the German culture, of the economy, and of society in this way," said Stockmann.
There are 2,500 students at this particular Siemens education center, but Stockmann says as many as 40,000 young people applied. Those odds sound more like trying to get into Harvard or Stanford.
Marius Kuhn is 21 years-old and was lucky enough to be selected at Siemens.
“We have good possibilities in the world market to get a job and get a nice job with good applications, that’s why I’m here, at Siemens to learn Electrical Engineering," said Kuhn.
Christian Koepcke sits next to Kuhn in class.
“I like it that we are here at a, we call it (German Term), a jobs school," said Koepcke.
The 30 plus North Carolina teachers were able to speak with students, to find out what makes their experience work.
Darren Segool is a Social Studies teacher at Holly Grove Middle School in Holly Springs. He was most impressed with the level of teamwork at the Siemens center.
“When we went downstairs, a participant asked the question if there was anything that they had done individually. They didn’t even know how to answer the question," said Segool. "They said everything is team, from the planning to the drawing to the drafting to the creating,”
Marjorie Light is an English teacher at the Early College High School based at North Carolina Central University.
“And I think that’s something that we need to bring into our American school system, is that concept of teamwork, and not individuality and not individual grades, but a group approach," said Marjorie Light.
Next month, a group of North Carolina legislators, some local county officials and representatives from the community college system will also visit Germany and Siemens, as the state works to grow jobs through advanced manufacturing.