(SPECTRUM NEWS) - A few years ago, Thomas Renier started thinking about life after high school. High-tech manufacturing, milling and machining -- an industry in the U.S and in Wisconsin -- and having a tough time finding skilled labor.

It’s an issue Manuel Merkt had faced first-hand when he moved to Wisconsin to work as President and CEO of German Subsidiary, Hermle USA.

Back in Germany, approximately 12% of their staff—1,200—12% of those are apprentices, so they have a pretty big apprenticeship program in a lot of occupations from electricians to mechanics, even technical things like drawing and design.

“Back when I came over here in 2011, I wanted to bring that training to the U.S., and I started working with local high schools and other companies in the area with minimal success,” said Manuel Merkt, Hermle USA, Inc.

Hermle USA wasn’t alone in trying to bridge that skills gap as other companies and the German-American Chamber of Commerce came together in 2015 to try and bring that German-style apprentice program stateside for companies in Wisconsin.

A high school graduate signs on for five years and splits time the first three years between school and work, and works full-time for the remaining two years—no cost, no debt, and the apprentice is paid the entire time.

“The German style is going to school two days a week, working three days a week, getting paid for both and the company pays for the schooling as well,"  said Thomas Renier, Hermle apprentice. "The ICATT program is absolutely great because it costs you absolutely nothing. The companies completely invest in you, and that’s one of the most incredible things that can be offered this day and age."

Geneva Scurek, a senior manager with the ICATT program, knows it might not be for everyone, but it could be for anyone.

“By the time you’re finished with the program, the company’s invested over $100,000 in you as an employee as far as your tuition and wages, and they really want to make you a part of a community that’s a career, so they’re trying to make sure they have opportunities available for students, and it’s no cost to them; [it] doesn’t even cost you anything to apply to the program,” said Scurek.        

A student who goes to the ICATT program will receive their associates’ degree from WCTC in technical studies. They will also receive the DIHK certification, which is an international certification only available through our organization and thirdly, they also receive the Wisconsin Journeyman’s card.

Scurek says an ICATT apprentice in this industry would make $40,000 to $50,000 a year when they’re done and upwards of $80,000 to $100,000 within five to 10 years with no student loan debt.

If you’re interested in learning more about the ICATT program, CLICK HERE.