A Way to Long-Term Productivity
Several months ago I attended our International Dealer Meeting held at EMCO Maier Group headquarters in Hallein, Austria. The site of the first day was at a trade school located just blocks from our headquarters. The exterior was like any other building you would expect to see in Austria: modern in structure, a four-story brick nestled at the foot of the Alps with plenty of glass windows to enjoy the view.
The interior was like any school you may see in the United States with long, gleaming hallways, classrooms filled with desks and podiums for lectures, black boards with assignments on them, students moving from room to room at a pace that seemed relaxed and comfortable. One difference, though, is that many of the features and hardware at the school, such as the doors and windows, were made at the school.
I noticed that the students were a range of ages, sizes and genders (but only about 4 percent are female) and nationalities. In many respects, the students seemed similar to our students here in the United States: eager to make their mark and learn a trade that will help them get a decent job.
In one noticeable way, however, the students were different from those you might see in the States; none were wearing earphones, earbuds or caps—it is not permitted. During a tour 2 days later I discovered the reason for the cross section of students attending the school.
TEC Point is a trade school operated by a group of devoted, committed instructors that ooze pride and confidence in each student. Ninety-five percent of the machining workshop teachers, in fact, are from a nearby farming village and are like fighters for their ideas for training the students for their future in industry. Teachers are in the classroom about 30 hours per week.
Funding and support is derived from tuition, the State and surrounding counties or countries sending students for training. The school has an annual budget of about $1.4 million. Students come from Austria, Germany and south Tirol (in Italy) totaling almost 2,000. The school also trains or retrains the unemployed, giving them new skills and job placement.
The school includes five disciplines and each student progresses at 1-year intervals for 4 years. They learn skills at this school that they do not learn at companies. There are tool makers, electricians, machinists, plumbers, welders and the newest trade, cable car maintenance and survey, an endeavor germane to Austria and the Alps.
There are CNC lathe and mill classrooms and labs, CAD/CAM programming classrooms (SolidEdge) and welding labs where students receive not only instruction from experienced, skilled teachers, but plenty of opportunity to use the equipment in proper, practical ways.
Companies such as EMCO Maier Group, Robert Bosch, FESTO and others support the school by donating/selling equipment when the need arises. Mr. Rautenbacher, head master, indicated that he makes one or two trips a year to EMCO headquarters to “make a deal” for updated equipment. This is how the school’s equipment is kept up-to-date so students learn on current equipment. The school has 14 computer rooms, primarily for CAD/CAM programming training and the computers are typically less than 3 years old.
After our tour and during our dinner at a local restaurant, my fellow travelers and I (six of us, total) compared what we saw at Hallein with the current state of trade schools in the U.S.
The Austrian school is headed by a resourceful person with a passion for teaching and for manufacturing. He is supported by only two principals or administrators, so administration is lean. The instructors are equally skilled and enthusiastic about their subjects and for passing on skills. There is real and consistent support from leading manufacturing companies, not just the local government. Because the training is thorough, all students find work in industry—and many are recruited by companies in places with a shortage of skilled technicians.
In the U.S., in an age of tight education budgets, massive administration costs in public schools and many unengaged students, it is difficult to build a skills school such as the one in Austria (there are only two like it in that country). But in this information age, technical training has never been more valuable globally.