Ellen Biesof Bühler
Inc., a Swiss company
with its North American headquarters in Plymouth, Minnesota Apprenticeships prove
to be a successful investment
in human capital for one Minnesota operation A
Civic CaucusFocus on
Human CapitalInterview November
John Adams, Ellen Bies, Paul Gilje
Sallie Kemper, Dan Loritz (chair), Dana
Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, Fred Zimmerman. By phone: Dave Broden (vice
chair), Amir Gharbi, Randy Johnson. Others present included Rich Davy of
the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) Apprenticeship
Hennepin Technical College faculty and
officials, and Bosch Packaging Technology representatives.
Ellen K. Bies is director of human
resources at Bühler Inc., of Plymouth. Bies joined Bühler in the U.S. in
1996 and has held various positions there, moving into full-time human
resources in 2009. Previously, she has worked as executive assistant to
the president, chief financial officer and in sales functions for several
international companies, both in Germany and the U.S.
Bies’s educational background includes the
completion of an apprenticeship in business administration in Germany and
being the first graduate of the University of Minnesota’s College of
Continuing Education’s HR Mastery Program. She holds the Senior
Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designation.
Bühler Inc., whose world
headquarters are in Uzwil, Switzerland, is a technology leader in
manufacturing equipment for the food industry, focusing on the supply of
flour-production plants and pasta- and chocolate-production lines. The
business requires highly skilled employees, whom it has found difficult to
find. In order to help fill its need for highly trained customer service
engineers, Bühler decided to start its own local apprenticeship program in
Plymouth, Minnesota, the location of its North American headquarters.
Bühler Apprenticeship Academy, under the leadership of Bernd Weber,
director of field services for the company, and Ellen Bies, started on
Aug. 1, 2012, and currently enrolls 15 students.
The Civic Caucus was invited to this special
information session and tour at Bühler’s Plymouth campus to learn about
the operation of the Apprenticeship Academy and how Bühler has used it to
help meet its workforce needs. The session was part of the Civic Caucus’s
current focus on Minnesota’s human capital challenges and opportunities
now and in the coming years.
Bühler has about 750 employees in the North American region.
The company has a total of 11,000 employees,
is active in 140 countries and has a high innovation rate of four to five
percent of turnover. Seventy-five percent of the world’s wheat flour is
produced on Bühler-made equipment, along with 40 percent of the world’s
pasta, 75 percent of the world’s silver paste and 75 percent of the
world’s beer malt.
Bühler’s North America business has hundreds of
employees who work directly with customers in its sales and manufacturing
facilities, which are located throughout North America. The company
installs and repairs equipment and provides on-site training of its
customers’ operations personnel.
As technology has evolved, Bühler couldn’t find
people in the marketplace with the skills the company needs.
Bühler started its Apprenticeship Academy to
fill the company’s pipeline for qualified Customer Service Engineers.
The position requires a mixture of mechanical, electrical and electronics
skills, according to Bühler’s Ellen Bies. Customer service engineers are
primarily responsible for the repair, installation, inspection and
modification of machinery at customer sites. They also provide training
for Bühler employees and for its customers.
The apprenticeship program, which takes three
years to complete, has been operating for three years. The first
apprentices will graduate in 2015.
The European apprenticeship concept is a dual
system of schooling and work experience. Bies noted that Europe has
had apprenticeship programs for over 100 years. She said that in Europe,
75 percent of students do an apprenticeship prior to higher education.
After completing an apprenticeship, they can go to college for a program
geared to the skills they have learned.
Students finish nine to 10 years of school
first, Bies said, and then apply to a company for an apprenticeship. In
Germany alone, there are 350 different apprenticeships, lasting from two
to four years. She explained that the vocational education system set up
to support the apprenticeships.
Bies noted that apprentices in Germany, who are
paid by the companies running the programs, go to school from one to two
days a week, with the schooling costs funded by the federal government.
So, Bies said, for two to four years, apprentices are going to school and
applying their learning as they go. "Students are much more interested in
learning in an apprenticeship program than when they’re going to school by
itself," she said. At the end of the apprenticeship program, students take
a final examination.
She said the system works because of cooperation
among all social partners: the federal government, industry,
education and the trades. The partners
work together to provide standardization among the different
apprenticeships. Then, she said, the companies that hire former
apprentices know they have a certain base of training. The companies can
build on that to train them for their specific needs.
The apprenticeships are driven by the needs of
industry. Bies said the federal government then recognizes the training
needs and puts in place the requirements for training and examinations.
"The government and industry work together," she said.
The U.S. has had apprenticeship programs for a
long time, as well. Bies said, in the U.S., apprenticeships have been
most often associated with blue-collar jobs. But, she noted that we need
apprenticeships for more technical skills, as well, since, for example,
machinists today need computer-programming skills.
Bühler adopted the European concept for its
apprenticeship program and tweaked it, so it would work in the U.S.
Bühler’s apprenticeship is a three-year program to train customer-service
engineers, also known as industrial specialists for machine and process
technology. It offers academic and hands-on training to its students. The
program is divided into segments of 8 to 12 weeks, with modules of classes
at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis rotated with modules of
classes at Bühler’s Apprenticeship Workshop in Plymouth. The classes at
Dunwoody are totally customized, with only the five Bühler apprentices in
Some Bühler apprentices from Switzerland come to
Bühler’s Apprenticeship Academy in Plymouth for a rotation and might also
spend time in China or other international locations.
The first year of the program concentrates on
mechanical training; the second year is electrical and electronics
training; and the third year is in-the-field training. "This creates a
flexible base with which apprentices could fill a variety of positions in
a number of companies," Bies said. "It gives us a flexible workforce."
Bühler pays for the apprenticeship program and
also pays the apprentices a stipend while they are training. Each
apprentice earns certificates from both Dunwoody and Bühler, as well as a
Journey Worker card. Bies said Bühler is working on getting the program
accredited, so apprentices could earn college credit and an associate’s
degree. There are enough credits just from the Dunwoody classes, she said,
to qualify for an associate’s degree.
When the company visits area high schools to
explain its program, parents are one of the biggest barriers. Bies
said parents tend to think their students should go to college, rather
than do apprenticeships.
The target group for the program is the high
school graduate, but it is also open to other qualified individuals.
The program accepts five to six students each year. "We want to be sure
the students will succeed, because we’re investing a lot of money in this
long-term project," Bies said. The acceptance process is a comprehensive
one, she said. Bühler holds open houses, invites the parents in and
interviews prospective apprentices. Ability and personality assessments
are part of the selection process. "We want to make sure it’s a successful
experience for both the company and the apprentice," she said. There is no
commitment required of apprentices to stay on at Bühler after they
complete the program. "If we can’t convince them that this is a place
where they’d like to work and how interesting and exciting it is, then
we’ve failed," she said.
Apprenticeship programs in Europe are much less
expensive than Bühler’s North American program. Bies said here, Bühler
must pay for the small, customized classes at Dunwoody. If other companies
had more apprenticeships, she said, Bühler and those companies might be
able to jointly send their apprentices to a public vocational school. "We
could share the classrooms and the schooling would be paid for publicly,"
she said. "Why can’t we have a school set up in Minnesota, where we could
send the students from a variety of companies to, say, Hennepin Technical
College and it would be funded through state money, like it is in Europe?"
Applicants for the Bühler program must be 18 or
over so the apprentices can rent cars and conform to various safety
requirements. An interviewer noted that in the U.S., the high school
curriculum is not set up to release people at age 16 into an
apprenticeship program like Bühler’s. He believes we need to encourage
students to take more technical courses through the state’s Postsecondary
Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, through which students in grades 10
through 12 can take courses, paid for by the state, at any college in
Many students would benefit from going to high
school through 10th grade and then doing an apprenticeship.
Bies said she thinkssome students are tired of school by then and
the apprenticeship program could show them what’s out there in the work
world and help them to grow up. Instead, many students finish high school,
enroll in college and then drop out.
If parents and high school students could see an
apprenticeship program like Bühler’s up close, parents would change their
minds from thinking college is the only path, suggested Rich Davy of the
Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
Many companies are doing company-specific
training, but that only benefits the company. Bies pointed out that
there are things that overlap among the companies’ training. "We all need
a certain base that’s the same," she said. "If we could share the cost of
providing the base training with other companies, then each company could
train the students who’ve completed the apprenticeship to meet its own
Perhaps a technical associate’s degree could do
away with the general education requirements. An administrator from
Hennepin Technical College said the higher education system is changing
quickly and the system could, in fact, do that.
There are lots of informal apprenticeships in
Minnesota. An interviewer gave the example of Alexandria Extrusions,
which works with the Alexandria Technical and Community College, to train
people in the skills the company needs. He also said Remmele Engineering
has a big apprenticeship program.
It’s our duty to teach our kids skills so can
they can survive on their own. Bies said this shouldn’t stop at high
school, because the kids can’t survive with just that level of training.
The needed skills training can happen at college or in apprenticeship
An interviewer pointed out that many kids don’t
know much about the world of work and have never been in a modern
manufacturing facility. He also said there is a cultural bias against "the
doing of useful work." One way to overcome that, he said, is to show
people what’s going on at places like Bühler.
For apprenticeship programs to succeed, students
in the programs must be able to get an associate’s degree and the programs
must be more affordable for companies, perhaps by joining forces with
Minnesota Pipeline Project
was created by the 2014 Legislature, under the leadership of State Senator
Terri Bonoff, to encourage apprenticeships.
Bies praised the Pipeline Project for working
to make more apprenticeships available in Minnesota. Pipeline stands for
Private Investment, Public Education, Labor and Industrial Experience. The project is designed to move the focus outside
of traditional apprenticeship industries to new areas of economic demand
and potential growth. The goals are (1) to develop a path for individuals
to obtain a degree and career; and (2) to allow employers to obtain
highly-trained workers in the important areas of advanced manufacturing,
agriculture, healthcare services and information technology.
Minnesota Pipeline Project
website, you can view the video, "Success in the New Economy," which
describes the misalignment between education and our workforce now and
into the future. The video was shown at the meeting at Bühler. You can
also get a transcript of the video.)
Highlights of the video include the following:
The perception of higher earnings for having a four-year college
degree has fueled a "college for all" philosophy, resulting in 66
percent of high school graduates in the U.S. enrolling in higher
education right after high school. But the reality is that most drop out
and only a quarter of those who enroll will finish a bachelor’s degree.
With rising education costs, a shrinking job market and the
oversaturation of some academic majors in the workforce, the
conventional wisdom that a university degree guarantees a higher salary
is now a myth for the majority of students.
In 2018, only 33 percent of all jobs will require a four-year degree
or more, while the overwhelming majority will be middle-skilled jobs
requiring technical skills and training at the credential or associate’s
The true ratio of jobs in our economy is 1:2:7. For every job
requiring a master’s degree or more, two professional jobs require a
four-year university degree and seven jobs require a one-year
certificate or two-year degree. And these technicians are in very
high-skilled areas that are in great demand.
The "college for all" rhetoric is often interpreted as "university
for all." The message needs to be significantly broadened to "a
post-high school credential for all."
Nationally, 50 percent of associate degree workers earn between
$27,000 and $68,000, with 25 percent earning less than $27,000 and 25
percent earning more than $68,000. Fifty percent of bachelor’s degree
recipients earn between $34,000 and $97,000, with 25 percent earning
less than $34,000 and 25 percent earning more than $97,000.
Our world has changed and in this new economy, the university degree
is no longer the guaranteed path towards financial success that it was
for previous generations. New and emerging occupations in every industry
now require a combination of academic knowledge and technical ability.
Community colleges are in a position to provide over 70 percent of
tomorrow’s workforce with an education combined with applied technical
skills, industry-driven credentials and specific preparation for
"We need college, but we also need
technical skills," Bies said. The economy needs people entering the
workforce both with technical skills and with academic training. "For
those who wish to go to college, why not get a degree after an
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman