Henry Ford Community College

Toyota UK / Flickr

Michigan imports a lot of things from Germany, from craft beer to high-tech appliances.

Now, the state's trying to import Germany's highly successful apprentice system.

The hope is that employer-paid apprenticeships could address two problems: high-skilled jobs that go unfilled – and four-year college degrees that are becoming unaffordable.

One such program is already underway, teaching students how to manage automated assembly lines.

UC Davis College of Engineering / Flickr


In the United States, high school students are often told they need a four-year college degree to get a good job. That can mean racking up a lot of debt.

But in Germany, students can choose a paid apprenticeship. Now, Michigan officials hope to import the system here.

The apprentice system in Germany is extensive. You can become a land surveyor, a bank clerk, a robotics technician... so it's not hard to find someone who's done it.

When Sophie Stepke was 16, she was a typical teen. She had no idea what she wanted to do for a living.

She could have postponed a decision by staying in high school. Instead,

I went for an apprenticeship as a professional land surveyor. So for three years, I worked with an employer, I went to school, and I basically became a professional land surveyor. So I was staying out there building streets and building houses and all that kind of stuff.

Henry Ford Community College

It's been a long time since the days you could succeed on the factory floor with "a weak mind and a strong back," as the adage goes.

Modern manufacturers need people who use their minds more than their bodies.  

Today, manufacturing workers need to be computer literate, solve problems when the robots on the line shut down, and work in teams.

The Obama administration says manufacturing companies added jobs for the first time since the 1990s - more than 500,000 jobs in the past 30 months.