MAK program on cutting edge

Angelika Lantz
21st Theater Support Command

***image1***The Automotive Apprenticeship program at the Maintenance Activity Kaiserslautern is at the forefront of cutting-edge curriculum, educating and training apprentices in their desired trade of “mechatronics.”

The MAK is a unit of the General Support Center, Europe, which belongs to the 21st Theater Support Command. Starting in 2006, graduates of the 3.5-year program will earn the title of “automotive mechatronic,” to denote the combination of automotive mechanic and electrician, said Wilhelm Backes, MAK supervisor and deputy chief.

Already, approximately 500 apprentices have been enrolled in the program since its inception in 1975, and MAK apprentices have been recognized at the county, state and national level, said Mr. Backes.

“Any student willing to learn and work hard will get excellent, high-quality training here,” Mr. Backes said.

The program, which is financed by the state government of Rheinland-Pfalz, is also one of the largest apprenticeship programs in the region with 46 apprentices enrolled.

“We have a big advantage over other students – eight of us work in the same place. We can work and study as a team,” said Mark Specht, a student in the program. “We have great instructors, the best equipment, and we get to practice everything we learn.”

One hundred percent have passed the final exam that is administered by the local trade association and more than 90 percent of those who have graduated were hired to work with the U.S. Armed Forces in the area, Mr. Backes said.

Another indicator of the program’s success is that many applicants who have to pass an entrance exam to be accepted are coming from the East German states, from as far as Berlin, he said.

Thomas Mihanovic, the chief of the apprentice shop, was enrolled in the 1989 to 1993 program under the supervision of Mr. Backes.

“Of course things have changed quite a bit since,” said Mr. Mihanovic. “Then, we would be told, ‘OK, you need to tighten this screw, this one and that one.’ Now we tell our students, ‘This is your project, these are the tools you have to assist you, and this is the desired end result.’ Apprentices working in teams will then go about finding the necessary steps and solutions.”

Graduate Nicole Theis has continued her training at the shop to become a service technician, which qualifies between a journeyman and craftsman technician. And, though, her chosen trade attracts mostly males, she does not feel discriminated against.

“This is a great place to work, with great people to work with,” she said.