[In Business] International Internships, Taking the Long View in a Short-Term Culture

In Business Blogger Walter Simpson‘s son is interning in Germany for a Wisconsin manufacturing business. In his latest post, Simpson discusses Wisconsin’s international reach, and the importance of preparing our citizens accordingly.


My son has a great manufacturing internship. He really enjoys it. In many ways, he is living the life that his Wisconsin schooling prepared him for. He sent out four e-mails requesting a spot, and got an offer after a few weeks. The family-owned company that made the offer is doing well, so they agreed to take on a student.


I looked at the German company’s website and I was struck by its international character. It employs 400 people, yet it has 15 international subsidiaries and a like number of independent international distributors. I can say from personal experience, managing an international network of that size is very hard — not only coordinating the varying safety, electrical, training and labeling requirements, but managing personnel, currency and pricing policies. It is like playing three chess games at once. In seven languages. (Yes, seven. The website functions in Serbian, Romanian, Polish, Russian, French, English and German.)

The company’s news page also describes its specialized sales efforts in Thailand and Vietnam. In Wisconsin, the only family company I can think of with this kind of network or history is S.C. Johnson, which is much larger. (I am sure there are others, please let me know.)

Lastly, the Germans put a great emphasis on manufacturing education. The internship my son is enjoying is part of a uniform process put in place for all beginning engineering students. They are expected to learn factory safety, material handling and welding. Hands-on, before starting college.

I would like to think that we also have the stuff to make our family manufacturers succeed in the wider world. To do that, we may need more middle school shop and German teachers. And the patience to employ the skills they teach, for the long term.

Read the complete post.