Volkswagen’s apprentice program is a winner (“Volkswagen tries to bring Germany’s worker-friendly policies to U.S.,” Web. Aug. 31). About 35 years ago, a top Volkswagen executive accepted an invitation to be keynote speaker at a seminar titled “Invest in the USA.” It was held in the auditorium of the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It was the fifth such seminar in Japan, but the first seminar targeting a specific industry; namely, automakers and auto-parts suppliers. Japanese carmakers had gained significant share of the U.S. market from Japanese production.
The Volkswagen executive talked about the experience of the then-two-year old Volkswagen plant in Westmoreland, Pa. A vice president of the United Auto Workers talked about unionized employment and a vice president of a top U.S. corporation discussed forming joint ventures. At the reception following that seminar, an executive of Nissan asked for the phone number of then-Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. Nissan built its assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn. Not long after the seminar, Toyota joined General Motors in reopening a GM plant in Fremont, Calif. That plant had been closed down because of management, union and worker problems. A condition for reopening was for workers of the facility to go to Japan to learn how to assemble quality vehicles, as taught by W. Edwards Deming. The company was a success for the next two decades.
Honda was here at the time of that seminar. It was in Ohio manufacturing motorcycles, but there was no manufacture here of Japanese vehicles. The Japanese automakers wanted to hear from that Volkswagen executive.
That executive paved the way for solid jobs for many thousands of American workers to make here that which was being imported. It appears Volkswagen is paving the way again now with its apprentice program that, if copied, will be of great benefit to young American workers.