A Pasco County company has instituted an apprentice-type program adopted from German practices that gives high school students hands-on experience in various aspects of engineering, from designing and building machinery to learning how to fix construction equipment.
Bauer Foundation Corporation, in Odessa, is a Florida corporation and the U.S. subsidiary of the worldwide Bauer Group. Bauer is a foundation contractor, designer and builder of foundation equipment.
Students from the engineering academies at River Ridge High School in New Port Richey and East Lake High School have been invited to apply for the company’s Career Mentorship Program. Four students are typically accepted in the summer and many are kept on throughout the following school year, said Bryan Kamm, Bauer’s director for government relations and business development.
The program is modeled after the German dual education system used by Bauer’s parent company, based in Schrobenhausen, Germany, where nearly 250 apprentices are employed. The German students work for three to four years as “apprentice trainees” while attending school, where a rigid academic curriculum coincides with practical industrial experience.
This enables the students to become contributors to the company before they finish the program, and to become master craftsman while still in their early 20s.
Kamm led a group of German delegates, including Fritz Brechtel, a district administrator from Germershein County, and members of his staff on a tour of the Odessa Industrial Park, where Bauer Foundation operates.
The purpose, Kamm said, was to show them the opportunities Bauer had to offer students. Brechtel is interested in having more German exchange students study in the United States, particularly in schools that offer this dual-system style of education.
“[County Commissioner] Pat Mulieri invited us,” Brechtel said. “We are looking for possibilities to improve the sistership between our counties and to exchange students and economics.”
Loren Winkler, a master craftsman with Bauer, showed the delegates the various pieces of equipment the company engineers. Students like Michael Amendola, a St. Petersburg College student who’s been interning with the company since he was 16, are taught how to fix the equipment and even how to design and weld parts for them.
Winkler showed the tour group a small but heavy cylindrical part called a kelly pin.
“It’s a small part [students] can handle making and a piece of inventory we need,” Winkler said.
“It would be good for our students to work here,” Brechtel said. “Every student could be happy to get a chance like this.”
Germany has the most powerful industrial economy in the world today, Kamm said, which is why he wants U.S. companies to adopt German practices and higher educational standards to set science, technology, engineering and math students — sometimes referred to as STEM students — up for successful and productive careers.
The learning curve is steep, Kamm said, and students in the U.S. are coming out of college with degrees in STEM fields expecting a high income without the practical skills to earn it. He hopes companies like Bauer can help change that mindset by including more industry internships to combine with academic education.
The biggest obstacle, Kamm said, is finding instructors with an industry background. Those with industry experience are typically lacking teaching certifications and those with teaching certifications are typically lacking real-world experience.
“Universities aren’t teaching teachers to have practical, hands-on skills,” Kamm said. “They’re teaching the academic side.
“What we’re doing here is setting the stage for other companies in our area to see what we’re doing and start growing their own talent by using this dual system [of education].”