Faced with travel restrictions amid the pandemic, an international exchange program that brings German apprentices to Georgia continued in a virtual format this year, creating opportunities to attract more students and build deeper partnerships with local companies.
The program, Azubis Go USA, which is solely funded by the Joachim Herz Foundation, has since 2014 sent post-secondary technical college (Berufsschule) students working and training at companies across Bavaria, Hamburg, Berlin and Saxony to intern at Georgia firms.
The program began in 2014 through a partnership with the Bavarian Ministry of Education and the German American Chamber of Commerce South (GACC-South).
Since the pandemic began last spring, however, the German apprentices (Auszubildender or “Azubis” in German) have participated virtually in six online sessions hosted by the organizing partner Kennesaw State University. They hear from relevant speakers about working for U.S. companies, cultural dimensions of American industry and even the role of Georgia and metro Atlanta manufacturers in the global economy.
Often, Georgia companies that accepted Azubis as interns in the past give presentations during the virtual program and continue to support it.
The current Spring virtual program, which began on March 12 and wraps up April 24, includes 18 Azubis in Germany and eight student “peer buddies” at KSU.
“The virtual program allows students to absorb a lot of information in a short time without leaving their families and without leaving their jobs in Germany,” said the foundation’s U.S. program director, Iris Schultz. It also presents opportunities for students who are reluctant to speak face-to-face in a foreign language and are more comfortable working in smaller groups, she added.
Georgia companies can participate as well, Ms. Schultz said, by opening their doors for virtual or in-person company visits by Azubis Go USA participants, or accepting German apprentices when in-person internships resume.
For the Azubis, the program is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” because, unlike many college students in the humanities and other fields, only around 5 percent of German apprentices ever get to study abroad, Ms. Schultz explained. For many, the Azubis Go USA program is their first time to visit the United States – in person or, this year, virtually.
“Apprentices comprise an overlooked category of students, for which intercultural competence is a very important part of their training, and this program provides the opportunity to immerse into a different business and work culture. That is why the foundation has an interest in supporting them,” she said.
The Azubis Go USA program normally has two tracks. One is a six-week academic and cultural program at KSU where Azubis live with their peer buddies. The Herz Foundation assists them with a stipend and covers their tuition and host families’ costs.
The other track is an eight-week internship where German Azubis come on J-1 visas to intern at companies with a Georgia presence, like Kuehne + Nagel International AG and others. They live with Georgia host families to learn more about American culture and practice their English.
Typically, some 15 Azubis come here for the apprenticeships, while 20-25 Azubis attend the KSU academic and cultural program, Ms. Schultz said.
Since the in-person internships have not been possible due to the pandemic, many of the German Azubis who were selected last year are attending the virtual program this Spring instead. Another cohort expects to participate in a virtual program with KSU in the Fall.
The virtual program is hosted by Ms. Schultz; Sabine Smith, professor of German and German Studies Program Coordinator at KSU’s Department of Foreign Languages; and Yulia Kozyrakis, senior project manager at the Herz Foundation in Hamburg.
The virtual sessions highlight a different theme each week, inviting speakers from various organizations, such as GACC-South, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and locally based German subsidiaries. Leaders of German companies have included John Fluker from Grenzebach Corp. and Stuart Sandlin from Hapag-Loyd AG.
Future speakers are expected to include Atlanta Technical College President Dr. Victoria Seals, KSU economics professor Dr. Marcus Marktanner and Pandora Artist Marketing and Industry Relations VP Bryan Calhoun, who is also Executive in Residence at the KSU Music & Entertainment Business Program.
“German students often have an image of America that is relegated to New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles; they don’t know a lot about Georgia. We try to give them a view of Atlanta as an economic powerhouse in the Southeast and an idea of the global reach of Georgia,” Dr. Smith said. “With this new awareness, they become multipliers of our ongoing PR for Georgia and Atlanta – and our program.”
In conjunction with the virtual program, KSU peer buddies meet virtually each week with two or three German Azubis to reflect on the virtual sessions, discuss homework and give feedback. The Azubis contribute to a blog in English and German about their weekly lessons, which also ties in to Dr. Smith’s intercultural and language portion of the program.
Given that they’re already working in the private sector, Azubis are well-trained and professionals, giving a taste of the value of the apprenticeships to Georgia firms less aware of Germany’s dual-education model.
“They are always so impressed with the students’ level of skill; they can often run machines, solve problems and take over key functions,” Ms. Schultz said. “We are bringing actual professionals you can plug right in,” Ms. Schultz said.
The proof is in the outcomes: several Azubis have gotten job offers from the participating Georgia companies, even though they cannot stay because they have jobs and families waiting for them back in Germany.
Georgia companies also benefit from KSU students who return from internships in Germany with a newly “internationalized” outlook.
“This program supports some of the critical skills we might be lacking in the U.S., and it helps to fill the opportunity gap in engineering or industrial fields where we don’t have much new, young blood coming in,” Dr. Smith said.
She added that it incentivizes KSU students to give second-tier supplier companies throughout the metro area a closer look, rather than only seeking jobs at large German-owned corporations, especially those in nearby Kennesaw and Marietta.
The KSU student peer buddies who participate in both the in-person and virtual programs are typically graphic designers, mechanical engineers or other industrial career and business majors, and they usually take German classes at KSU, which has one of the largest German Studies programs in Georgia, Dr. Smith said.
Peer buddies often apply for internships in Germany, which are also currently virtual.
“Many internships are unpaid, but the Herz Foundation offers scholarships. This opens up so many possibilities for a KSU student who maybe otherwise can’t afford to go live in Germany for two months or even take time off work to participate in a virtual internship,” Dr. Smith said.
“It all starts with a visit – or a virtual visit – that may translate into a partnership that lasts for years.”
See a video about the Azubis Go USA program here: