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February 2014
Bridging the Skills Gap
By Zenda Douglas

     The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Society for International Cooperation or GIZ, is an impressive name for an impressive German non-profit organization operating in many fields across the globe and employing tens of thousands worldwide.

     GIZ primarily works with national governments, state agencies, and the private sector to bring customized solutions to bridge skills gaps while supporting larger goals relating to international cooperation for sustainable development and educational work. Its headquarters are located in Bonn and Eschborn, Germany.

     Charlotte is GIZ’s first foray into the United States. Considering the fact that there are hundreds of German-based companies located in the Charlotte region, it made sense for GIZ to open a U.S. office in the Queen City.

     In June of last year they co-located at the offices of Charlotte Works, the workforce development board for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. This arrangement allows for a collegial environment and networking potential.

     Although there is a high tech renaissance in advanced manufacturing and high technology currently underway in the Charlotte region, the most common problem experienced by these companies is a shrinking skilled workforce.

     “German companies tell us the biggest challenge is workforce skills between high school and the university,” says Minister Peter Fischer of the German Embassy.

     “The more complex jobs are, the more complex it gets to create tailor-made education,” avers GIZ Director Oliver Auge.

     A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group shows Charlotte as one of five of the nation’s 50 largest manufacturing centers with a significant or severe “mid-skills training gap.”

     GIZ helps to tailor the needs of companies to provide vocational training at community colleges and other training institutions throughout the Charlotte Region. Their German Model offers dual-track training through work experience and education.


Global Workforce Development Success

     GIZ may be new to Charlotte, but the company brings a wealth of knowledge and decades of international experience in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) to the city.

     Although technically established in Germany in 2011, it is the amalgamation of the long-standing expertise of the Deutscher Entwicklungsdienst (DED) gGmbH (German Development Service), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) GmbH (German technical cooperation) and InWEnt—Capacity Building International.

     Peter Wunsch (pronounced “Vunsch”) serves as senior business developer for the Charlotte operation. Wunsch, 46, a German native, graduated from college in 1989, and obtained an MBA in 1993. He has worked in various posts with GIZ predecessors for most of the last 10 years in Germany, Eastern Europe, Laos, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Serbia.

     “Our primary mission is to reinforce local and regional efforts to close the mid-skills training gap by leveraging our many years of global workforce development experience,” states Wunsch, who is joined in the Charlotte office by Heike Hoess, TVET and Labor Market Specialist. The new U.S. branch office will initially focus on the Carolinas.

     GIZ is a non-profit enterprise which is wholly owned by the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). “GIZ is organized as a private sector company but is established for the not-for-profit purpose of supporting FRG’s goals related to international cooperation for sustainable development and international education work,” explains Wunsch.

     Active in more than 130 countries, GIZ employs approximately 18,000 staff members worldwide helping to train more than 140,000 students. Staff is assigned to organized topics, or sectors, which include water management, agriculture, government, post-conflict, health and energy.

     “Private sector development is a big topic,” emphasizes Wunsch. “We work on both sides of the same coin. We support private sector business but also support vocational education to prepare the people as career employees.”

     There are currently 150 training and education projects underway in more than 60 countries. 800 experts are engaged in these projects which total to an impressive overall contract value of $700 million USD.

     GIZ touts a stellar success rate. In 2012, 80 percent of people trained in projects that were managed by GIZ, and that did tracking of students, found a job. Still, Wunsch insists that the company is not here simply to transplant German strategies into an American paradigm.

     “When we come on board, it’s not about replicating our system someplace else,” he explains. “We’ve tried this in past years and it doesn’t work. Every country, even state, has to develop its own solution.

     “To have a successful and efficient method of vocational training that meets the needs of the private sector, there must be developed public/private partnerships. Neither sector can do it on its own. This is the challenge for every country.”

     According to Wunsch, “Private sector companies are in desperate need of a qualified workforce, especially small and medium-sized companies which don’t have the capacity to work directly with community colleges and are not ready to design and operate their own, in-house training programs. A conduit is needed to bring sectors together to make training accessible and customized to fit the specific requirements of the company involved.

     “Someone must teach the teachers,” Wunsch continues. “It’s really not that easy to teach somebody what to do, and therefore so-called ‘Train the Trainer’ programs are vital to success. You need well-trained trainers and instructors in both schools and companies, and we believe that GIZ US can make a significant contribution in this field here in the U.S.”

     Wunsch says there is also need for a kind of core structure—regulations, possible legislation regarding standards and quality control that bring aspects of universality to a field.

     Says Wunsch, “Particularly in the U.S., workers tend to be very mobile. Accordingly, a person trained and certified as a welder by a community college in the Charlotte region should expect to have his or her qualifications recognized and respected when applying for a similar job in Ohio; and the employer, in turn, should be able to rely on these qualifications and experience in making a confident hiring decision.”

     “We’re not here to compete with existing workforce development efforts,” says Wunsch. “There are so many well-qualified agencies and community colleges that are important players, especially in North Carolina which is excelling in vocational training. What is often missing is a link between these dots. That’s where GIZ can have a role. We want to create new, and strengthen existing, links.”


Vocational Education and Training

     Part of GIZ’s goal is to change the traditional and historical negative perception of advanced manufacturing being simply dirty, grunt work. For example, there is energy giant Siemens.

     “Siemens is so clean and quiet you can eat from the floor there, that’s great! So many young people don’t have an idea about that,” says Wunsch.

     Modern vocational education and training focuses on advanced manufacturing. One necessary goal is to change common perception of what the manufacturing environment is like. Conventional wisdom still considers manufacturing to be dirty, greasy work carried out in dark and dank places; a far cry from the reality of gleaming, laboratory-like facilities equipped with the latest in industrial and computer technology.

     “Plus, we’re no longer teaching people how to push a button 10,000 times. Rather, workers in manufacturing can be part of the production process and enjoy high-tech careers,” says Wunsch.

     “For a lot of people, vocational education is not the first choice,” says Wunsch. “Many prefer their children to enter university or a high-end school but it’s the same in all of the countries—not everyone is ready to become a chief executive officer or film star or lawyer. Some are better suited to working with their hands; some with their brains. Our training programs resolve to combine the two.” In fact, GIZ training programs are often constructed with vocational, pedagogic and language aspects.

     Charlotte’s robust training infrastructure and strong advanced manufacturing sector were important factors in the company’s decision to locate here. GIZ also plans to intensify its engagement in the German Embassy’s Skills Initiative, an ongoing, nationwide push by the Embassy to bring American and German businesses and training providers together to focus on closing the middle-skills gap and thereby providing the trained workers needed by these companies to grow and expand.

     Coincidence also played a part. Through a serendipitous meeting in Washington, D.C., GIZ representatives became acquainted with Michael Almond, former partner with Charlotte-based Parker Poe and recognized leader in economic development. Almond led the firm’s international practice before serving as president and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership from 1999-2005.

     In 2005, Almond was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) for outstanding commitment in fostering relations between the United States and the FRG. Almond’s consultation was more than helpful in bringing GIZ to Charlotte.

     In the years since 2011, the FRG has issued a mandate to GIZ to step up its work and engagement with industrialized countries such as those in the European Union, Asia and the United States. Acting on this mandate, GIZ began look into promising opportunities for expanding its activities in the U.S.

     Wunsch describes that it soon became evident that the most pressing need was in the field of workforce development and training, and that Charlotte had become the “gold standard” in the U.S. for adaptation and integration of German-style training models and best practices. Further evaluation and strategizing led to the opening of the first ever U.S. GIZ branch office in Charlotte with a focus on workforce development.

     “Working in Charlotte and the Carolinas is our entry point,” says Wunsch. “We know there is demand in other parts of the U.S. We already have workforce development contacts in other states.”

     GIZ’s objectives are to foster strong partnerships between educators, employers, and workforce development partners and to promote employment in advanced manufacturing as a lifelong sustainable career path. Its services encompass all phases of workforce development by increasing enrollment, aligning skills training with private sector and labor market demand and supporting students in the transition to employment.

     Utilizing the unique German dual-track training system, GIZ facilitates opportunities for students to learn both in school and in the workplace, allowing them to gain substantial relevant work experience. By providing training opportunities with an emphasis on employer-identified competencies, GIZ ensures that students are well qualified to meet the needs of the regional labor market. The development of internships and apprenticeships gives students on-the-job training.


Worldwide Clientele

     The majority of GIZ clients are non-industrialized countries which have agreements with the FRG. It is often necessary to train the instructors before training the students. In some cases, schools are established so that trained instructors will have a place to work.

     Another source for clients is multinational corporations and huge organizations such as the European Union, the World Bank or other international players. Foundations make up a third category of clients. Many private sector clients pursue social responsibility strategies and sustainable ways to produce their products.

     Work with most countries is carried out through bilateral agreements between the country’s government and the FRG but, essentially, the FRG is furthering the goals of the individual government. “They tell us what they need; what to do,” says Wunsch. “Here, we have to determine what kind of product or program we can offer to benefit each client.

     Part of doing so requires understanding the culture. “When we go into countries such as Kazakhstan, Georgia or Saudi Arabia, we know there are major differences in the culture and codes of communication. With the United States, because we have so much in common, it’s harder to discern the differences and the cultural nuances. I’m still trying to understand it and I learn everyday,” says Wunsch.

     For now, GIZ plans to keep its focus in the U.S. on workforce development. “We’re new on the market,” says Wunsch. “We want to be more established and ready to get involved with other goals but I can imagine exploring other sectors as well.” In particular, Wunsch cites energy as a likely sector in the Charlotte region.

     “Charlotte is now our home in America,” says Wunsch. “We believe that we can leverage our platform in Charlotte to make a substantial contribution to regional workforce development and training efforts that will, in turn, further support economic development, growth, and employment in the region.

     “This ‘proof of concept’ project model here in Charlotte will then enable us to expand our footprint and outreach to other issues of importance to German-American relations in the future. We will therefore continue to expand our networks and contacts here in the Charlotte region, where we have been welcomed with open arms, and we look forward to working in and with the community here.”

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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