The US workforce may be regarded as one of the most skilled and productive in the world, but companies locating in the US frequently say they need human capital resources.

Thomas Perez, US secretary of labour, pointed out during a session at the SelectUSA Summit in Washington, DC, in March that his department helps develop the labour workforce in coordination with state and local governments. This is done, in part, through a network of some 2500 job centres, which, at no cost, pre-screen workers, provide customised training and offer partnerships with educators via the 1200 or so community colleges across the country.

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One example comes from MTU America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Germany's Rolls-Royce Power Systems. Joerg Klisch, MTU America vice-president of North America operations, explained how his firm partnered with the Aiken County Career and Technology Centre in Aiken, South Carolina.

“We created an apprenticeship programme where students get trained at the career centre and over time we bring them to our plant for the practical part,” said Mr Klisch. “Instead of picking an elective, they join our programme.”

The programme is available only to high school students, not graduates, and lasts 1000 paid hours. Students receive a certified skill that is recognised in Germany and they can then work on MTU America’s assembly lines.

New academy

Rene Steiner, chief executive of Bühler North America, explained that when the Switzerland-based company initially planned to locate in Minneapolis, it could not find a base for training. “We decided to start our own apprenticeship academy,” he said.

Today the programme focuses on integral basic training. It includes classes at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis and training at the Bühler Apprenticeship Workshop in Plymouth, Minnesota.

The academy employs high school students, giving them a salary and paying their college tuition fees. “After three years they are free to go but hopefully they would stay on with our company,” said Mr Steiner.

Mr Perez reported that president Barack Obama is committed to doubling the number of registered apprentices in the next five years. Consequently, the US government is investing significantly in resources, including a $100m competitive grant package designed to increase apprenticeship programmes beyond traditional trades to IT, healthcare, cyber security, logistics and other areas.