Georgia’s Technical Colleges Observe European Education System

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Pictured is the pilot group of the Global Faculty Development Initiative (GFDI); a partnership between the Technical College System of Georgia and the German college Felix-Fechenbach Berufskolleg in Detmold, Germany. Georgia Northwestern Technical College Machine Tool Technology Director Philip Shirley is a member of the initial team.
Pictured is the pilot group of the Global Faculty Development Initiative (GFDI); a partnership between the Technical College System of Georgia and the German college Felix-Fechenbach Berufskolleg in Detmold, Germany. Georgia Northwestern Technical College Machine Tool Technology Director Philip Shirley is a member of the initial team.

Representatives with the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) returned from an exploratory trip to Europe. Their mission was to see what things one German educational system does that has many benefits the TCSG may want to explore themselves.

Germany’s “Berufskolleg” apprenticeship system is one which Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) and eight other colleges within the TCSG are examining for inspiration. They are looking at ways to change how they administer collegiate education for students here in the Peach State.

Georgia’s Technical College System is only half of a century old. The apprenticeship program through Germany’s Berufskolleg, or vocational college system, is approximately four centuries old. The obvious difference in what the Germans do which may appeal to Georgian students is how companies interact with the students and how the colleges train the future workforce.

GNTC’s Machine Tool Technology Director Philip Shirley served as the college’s representative in the pilot group of the Global Faculty Development Initiative (GFDI); a partnership between the TCSG and the German college Felix-Fechenbach Berufskolleg in Detmold, Germany.

The week-long GFDI trip from April 9-16, which included 50-hours of travel time, allowed Shirley and his peers to see how Germany’s technical education works hand in hand with industry in a unique way. “It’s the companies in each town which make the educational system what it is,” said Mr. Shirley. “We give our students at GNTC the skill sets they’ll need to earn a career within our region. In Germany, it’s a little different.”

With nearly 20 years as a collegiate instructor in the state of Georgia, Mr. Shirley has placed hundreds of students into new careers from his program. “However, what we saw in Germany was that the companies invested in the student first,” noted Mr. Shirley. “Our companies watch our programs for those ready to graduate with the skills sets they’ll need. In Germany, the company invests in the student before college begins. It’s a true apprenticeship program.”

Mr. Shirley recalls many positive insights from his visit to Felix-Fechenbach Berufskolleg and the companies it partners with. “One of the things I found most interesting was that student apprentices were paid workers of the company throughout their collegiate careers,” stated Shirley. “Also, the companies invested a lot of resources in making sure their student apprentices had the proper facilities, equipment, and training available at their college.”

The Berufskolleg starts at the beginning with each student. It starts with the companies hiring the students as apprentices before they ever see a college classroom. Then, they spend the next several years going back and forth between the company which has hired them and the college. “For several weeks, the college provides the theory and practical application side of what the student apprentice will be doing next for the company. Then, the company hosts the student apprentice for several weeks and provides much of the on-site training of the area they had just covered in their college coursework,” added Mr. Shirley.

So, when spending time with the student apprentices, Mr. Shirley and his team noticed one difference between them and the students waiting for them back in Georgia. “Our students appear to be more creative and better at critical thinking,” said Mr. Shirley. “But, the student apprentices in Germany appeared to be more disciplined and oriented. Our team kept using the phrase, ‘They are switched on.’ “

A big factor many on the outside looking in would notice at first glance is that none of the more than 3,000 students at Felix-Fechenbach Berufskolleg pay for their education. “All of the companies in the college’s region, large and small, make an investment into the student apprentices,” said Mr. Shirley. “Companies partner with the Chamber of Commerce which administers the apprenticeship program.”

Companies help the colleges provide the latest in educational training. “The companies will often build training facilities for on the college campuses,” added Mr. Shirley. “It works this way throughout Germany. It appears to be very efficient. The process ultimately appears to provide highly-skilled workers to the companies and world-class facilities to the colleges.”

Shortly after the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia’s relationship with Germany’s Berufskolleg system began. It started as solely an exchange program with Georgia’s Atlanta Technical College which still exists today.

The Halle Exchange Program, founded by Dr. Claus Halle, former president of Coca-Cola International and a native of Germany, helps organize and fund the International Student Exchange Partnership. According to the program’s motto, it allows exchange students from both nations to learn how to, “live, learn, and work together.” Now, in striving to continue to make technical education in Georgia the best it can be, the Halle Foundation is helping fund these new partnerships involving the collegiate administration.

For more information on Georgia Northwestern Technical College, contact them at 866.983.4682 (GNTC).


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