I propose to increase transatlantic cooperation by getting a more diverse groups of young people engaged. I propose two measures to achieve this:
1. Set up a new professional exchange program specifically targeted at apprentices and participants in vocational training
2. Get transatlantic organizations to increase payment for internship positions
I believe that more engagement on a younger level is vitally important for the future of transatlantic development. The steps laid out here will help to get those young people engaged in the transatlantic partnership who are usually having a harder time to get the foot in the door. This will demonstrate rather than just proclaim an open and inviting system.
The benefits of education are staggering: from increased income, a healthier life, to peace. Exchange of ideas between the two sides of the Atlantic can be such an opportunity for mutual education – especially for young people who do not come from highly educated backgrounds.
At a time when the transatlantic partnership seems to be eroding, young people are at the heart of the problem: Young Americans are less favorable of Germany than older ones, and in both countries older people are more open for international engagements of their country than the young. The election of Donald Trump as President has significantly decreased German trust in the transatlantic partnership, but merely increased a longer trend.
For a long lasting transatlantic cooperation it is vital to get young people involved – not only in transatlantic organizations, but in the full spectrum of a lived transatlantic partnership. Focusing on apprentices is building on the idea of a blue color exchange program. It specifies that idea and limits it to a section more fitting into classical exchange programs, thus making it easier to push forward. The further benefit is that it targets a young group, especially in need of being convinced of the importance of the transatlantic partnership and in need of a bully-free-narrative. The second proposition builds on the same sentiment: Getting people from non-traditional backgrounds involved. A sentiment specifically made by the Atlantic Expedition.
1) Supporting apprentices with exchange programs
A potential exchange program for apprentices touches two main areas: MNCs (Multinational Corporations) which already have a standing both in Germany and the US and which could easily have such an exchange internally – if they do not already have that. The second area is the much larger group of apprentices whose employer is only established nationally or regionally. For those, cooperation with fitting partner organizations in the other country will have to be established. Chambers of commerce or industry associations come to mind as platforms for such an exchange.
The general arguments for these exchanges are straight forward. Similar to Erasmus or a semester abroad for university students, being three months in a professional setting either in a branch of your own or a cooperating company in a different country will improve interpersonal skills and broaden their horizons. Having such an international part of the apprenticeship will make participants not only richer in experience but more competitive in the job market and leave them with a better understanding of the lived reality of the respective transatlantic partner.
There are precedents for this. The Georgia Consortium of Advanced Technical Training has had a brief exchange in this style, as has Siemens. The Transatlantic Apprenticeship Exchange Forum is another example of movement in this direction. There are examples of these types of exchanges being set up with other countries as well. All of these are however on an abysmally small scale.
Strong partners for this could be AHK/IHK in Germany and respective counterparts in the US. Participating organizations could either pay into a fund, or a public private partnership to sponsor these exchanges could be arranged. The project thejobofmylife by the Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales illustrates on an EU-level how mobility for apprentices can be supported. If this can be done for full apprenticeships, surely a short term exchange is not out of reach.
2) Better paid internships in transatlantic organizations
It is one thing to learn about transatlantic cooperation, and quite a different one to experience it. For most students, internships are their first professional experience that can set the tone for their following career. But well paid internships in transatlantic organizations are hard to come by, making it much harder for interested young people from not so well off background to participate.
Examples: An internship at the German Marshall Fund Berlin Europe Program-Migration offered 450 Euro per month of fulltime work. The Atlantische Initiative offered even less (300 Euro). Internships by the Trans-Atlantic Business Council do not appear to be paid at all. The same seems to be true for the Streit Council and the Atlantic Council. NATO is a notable exception, paying 800 Euro per month, as well as travel expenses.
To put this into perspective: According to meinpraktikum.de, interns at a mid-sized consultancy made on average 1200 Euro per month of fulltime work. If transatlantic organizations are serious about a) getting good people engaged and 2) wanting those people to be from all backgrounds, they should not make it so difficult for interested students to get engaged.
Quantitatively not staggering, this would send a strong signal of adhering to principle. It would also be relatively quickly accomplishable, since the decision makers are well at hand.
People respond to a clear message. A positive, action based plan such as an exchange for apprentices is exactly what is needed. It tackles the real issue of getting more young people engaged in an important partnership. Furthermore, it includes a part of society not usually targeted for these kinds of programs.