Hermle seeks to bring German-style apprenticeships to Wisconsin

Companies invited to March 2 event

Manuel Merkt, Gunther Schnitzer and Eric Olender will lead Hermle North America in a new combined leadership structure.

Manuel Merkt has sought to find a way for Hermle Machine Co. to develop technical talent ever since he came to Wisconsin from Germany in 2010. He’s hoping a new apprenticeship program with the German American Chamber of Commerce will allow him to do just that.

Manuel Merkt, Gunther Schnitzer and Eric Olender will lead Hermle North America in a new combined leadership structure.
Manuel Merkt, Gunther Schnitzer and Eric Olender lead Hermle North America in a combined leadership structure.

Merkt is vice president of Hermle and one of the leaders of the company’s North American headquarters in Franklin. The company is a Germany-based provider of high precision machine tools and automation.

When Merkt first came to the Wisconsin he tried to bring some of the training programs he’d experienced in Germany with him, but said schools didn’t seem motivated to take on that level of training.

So when he heard a few years ago the German American chamber in Chicago was starting an apprenticeship program modeled and benchmarked on the German dual education system, he told them his company would sign on right away.

The chamber established the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training in 2015 and is now looking to expand into Wisconsin, Merkt said. Hermle is hosting an event March 2 to provide companies with more information on the program.

Merkt said Hermle will only be able to accommodate one apprentice this year and the program needs eight to 12 to be able to run. He plans to work with local technical colleges, although which school will depend on the geographic locations of the companies that sign on.

Those interested in participating should contact Hermle or the German American Chamber.

The ICATT program runs for three years and students receive an associate degree and German DIHK certification along with a two-year employment guarantee following the program.

“That’s worth a lot more than sitting in a school for three years or four years,” Merkt said.

He noted students usually spend three days a week with the company and two days in school while being paid for both.

In his view, the apprenticeship programs in place in Wisconsin don’t do enough to make students prove they’ve developed the right skills during their time in the program. The ICATT program seeks to address that by having independent testing against industry standards that’s coordinated by the chamber.

“If you hire somebody, you know what they went through and that’s kind of missing right now in the U.S.,” Merkt said.

He said the plan is to target upcoming high school graduates.

“They’re still young enough to learn. They’re willing to learn,” he said, adding the program is positioned as an alternative to a four-year college degree.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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