Like many other states, South Carolina has been wooing foreign corporations, hoping to create new jobs and stimulate the economy.

When a German firm relocated to produce heavy engines, it was unable to find enough skilled workers.

So the company leader “did what he would have done back home in Germany: He set out to train them himself. Working with five local high schools and a career center in Aiken County, S.C. — and a curriculum nearly identical to the one at the company’s headquarters in Friedrichshafen — Tognum now has nine juniors and seniors enrolled in its apprenticeship program.”

“South Carolina offers a fantastic model for what we can do nationally,” said Ben Olinsky, co-author of a forthcoming report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington research organization, recommending a vast expansion in apprenticeships.

“Despite South Carolina’s progress and the public support for apprenticeships from President Obama, who cited the German model in his last State of the Union address, these positions are becoming harder to find in other states. Since 2008, the number of apprentices has fallen by nearly 40 percent, according to the Center for American Progress study.

“As a nation, over the course of the last couple of decades, we have regrettably and mistakenly devalued apprenticeships and training,” said Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor. “We need to change that, and you will hear the president talk a lot about it in the weeks and months ahead.”

“In November, the White House announced a new $100 million grant program aimed at advancing technical training in high schools. But veteran apprenticeship advocates say the Obama administration has been slow to act.

“The results have not matched the rhetoric in terms of direct funding for apprenticeships so far,” said Robert Lerman, a professor of economics at American University in Washington. “I’m hoping for a new push.”

“In Germany, apprentices divide their time between classroom training in a public vocational school and practical training at a company or small firm. Some 330 types of apprenticeships are accredited by the government in Berlin, including such jobs as hairdresser, roofer and automobile electronics specialist. About 60 percent of German high school students go through some kind of apprenticeship program, which leads to a formal certificate in the chosen skill and often a permanent job at the company where the young person trained.

“If there is a downside to the German system, it is that it can be inflexible, because a person trained in a specific skill may find it difficult to switch vocations if demand shifts.

“In South Carolina, apprenticeships are mainly funded by employers, but the state introduced a four-year, annual tax credit of $1,000 per position in 2007 that proved to be a boon for small- to medium-size companies. The Center for American Progress report recommends a similar credit nationwide that would rise to $2,000 for apprentices under age 25.

The emphasis on job training has also been a major calling card overseas for South Carolina officials, who lured BMW here two decades ago and more recently persuaded France’s Michelin and Germany’s Continental Tire to expand in the state.”

South Carolina has 28,000 people working for German corporations.

What’s the lure?

“Of course, there are other reasons foreign companies have moved here. For starters, wages are lower than the national average. Even more important for many manufacturers, unions have made few inroads in South Carolina.”

Interesting, since Germany itself has strong unions.

Just as the textile industry fled South Carolina for nations where wages were lower and there were no unions, South Carolina now meets that need for European nations.