North Georgians Headed to Germany for Three Years of Factory Training
Mary Welch | February 18, 2015
While Georgia has won accolades for its workforce training programs, one German manufacturer is taking its time over the next three years to ensure it has just the right people managing a $54 million factory it will open in North Georgia in 2017.
Häering, which makes precision components and subassemblies for the automotive industry, will send 40 young technical-college graduates to Bubsheim, Germany, to learn company culture, refine their technical skills and gain fluency in the German language.
“This is not the usual training where they will learn how to push buttons,” said Häering Managing Director Andreas Lehnhofer. “They will be trained in leadership, and we expect them to be leaders in our company.” The first nine, all graduates of Athens Technical College, left Feb. 18 to take part in the program, which Mr. Lehnhofer said could be perceived as a costly risk by outsiders. But he believes the greater risk is opening too quickly.
“I would like to challenge others to learn about [this method]. The biggest mistakes U.S. companies make are starting production and you don’t have your workforce ready. It is a reason why the U.S. workforce has a bad reputation,” he said. Start 2011 Travels ARticle End 2011 Travels Article Besides, the company has refined this program throughout its global system, particularly in China and Poland.
“We learned that success comes from the people, not the equipment, building or executives. This is a $12 million investment over three years for 40 people. They are our assets and without them we could not do it. They will act as partners, not individuals. Without them, nothing is possible,” he told Global Atlanta. The American team, which consists of both management and technical leaders, will receive training in project management and engineering, quality management and inspection and logistics and purchasing. They’ll also take academic classes and rotate, step-by-step, to each station on the factory floor. Instructors will assess the proper training track for each student, who will have a special coach to assist them through the program. As part of the deal, they will be paid a salary and provided with housing. In addition, they will be insured while working in Germany and receive 10 vacation days and 12 paid holidays. They will also have a car available to them and one roundtrip economy plane ticket to the U.S. every year. Those who complete the program are contractually required to stay with the company a minimum of five years. The total investment for each employee is $100,000 per year. Local officials welcomed the German firm’s investment in the North Georgia workforce. None of the 40 workers have ever left the U.S. before, and the experience and training they receive will be “transformational,” said Dwayne Dye, economic development director for the Hart County Industrial Building Authority. “This will require our workforce to stretch, continue their education and continually invest in themselves. Häering is raising the bar for the workforce, not only in Hart County but the entire region. This is going to send a larger number of applicants to our technical colleges and it will show that you don’t have to leave rural northeast Georgia to find a high quality career,” Mr. Dye said. Andrea Daniel, vice president for economic development at Athens Technical College, says Häering is offering students a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“They will come back with superb training as well as see other parts of the world. Our students know the opportunity they are getting and will pay it forward, not only to the company but our community,” Dr. Daniel said. The effort to raise the bar won’t stop with this program. Mr. Lehnhofer also said Häering will become very involved in all the schools of higher education, including the University of Georgia.
“The higher education system in the United States is not at the same level as in Europe. We will bring in the latest equipment to the technical schools here so that American students can learn on the machines that are being used today. The European workforce attended disciplined school systems and their choices of a career are laid out. It’s not based on how much money you have. It’s a real education, and people have to have a full ride to success that is not based on money.”
Mr. Dye appreciates the German point of view. “These companies are privately held or by foundations, and they are not driven by stockholder mentalities, which forces a dysfunctional short-term approach. Häering looks 10, 15, 20 years out, not the next quarter. This is what American companies used to do and we’ve lost our focus. Andreas is right that the only real assets are the people, and their actions are speaking very loudly.” But Mr. Lehnhofer did emphasize that Georgia was the best location for Häering. “We are not only getting tremendous support from everyone in Georgia, but it’s also a matter of trust. Everything people said was true and I’ve not been disappointed.”