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US Experts Focus on Austrian Approach to Innovation and Talent in Advanced Manufacturing

September 11, 2013

2013 George C. Marshall Visit to Austria examines dynamics of skilled labor and innovation   

From September 3-6, 2013, a group of nine delegates from prominent US government and nongovernmental organizations met with stakeholders in Vienna and the Linz region for a program titled “Advanced Manufacturing: Access to Innovation, Securing the Talent Pipeline.” The program involved meetings with key governmental, educational and industrial organizations, as well as company visits to firms with strong apprenticeship programs, including Starlim/Stemer , Rosenbauer and Anger Machining .

With experts from the US State Department, Federal Reserve Bank, the Aspen Institute, a former manufacturing policy advisor to President Barack Obama and key industry and educational associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers, discussions were lively and engaged.

There appeared to be a general consensus regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the US and Austrian systems. Both countries are part of a large regional market with excellent logistics, advanced technology, a highly educated management and a shortage of skilled labor. The US benefits from low energy costs, drawing global investments in energy intensive industries such as steel, chemical and plastics. It has a highly mobile workforce which encourages both entrepreneurship and scalability in seizing opportunity. Austria benefits from a social market economic system that promotes a stable workforce with highly qualified skilled labor trained and qualified through a comprehensive dual education model (see this short video for an overview).

In one of the company meetings, the American delegation was impressed to find a dedicated training room filled with 15-year old apprentices working diligently in a metals trade. Delegates commented that this would likely never happen in the US.

In conclusion, both countries and systems have much to learn from one another. What is the best way to transfer the strengths of one system into another? One suggestion: Austrian-based firms in the US need to be on the forefront of skilled worker training at their US production facilities. This approach is already working for the Austrian company Julius Blum´s subsidiary in North Carolina, which is featured in this interview