As well as a range of products, STIHL has also successfully exported the dual training model, which has been common practice in Germany for many decades. At many locations, talented young individuals are starting their professional lives in line with the German template. This has been the case for more than 35 years in the USA, the “land of opportunity”. Bradley Holmes is training as a mechatronics engineer at STIHL Inc. in Virginia Beach, and gives us an insight into his day-to-day work.




BRADLEY HOLMES’ WORKING DAY starts early and lasts eight hours while he is training; later the mechatronics engineer will be completing 12-hour shifts. His workplace is in the accessories production area.



THE TRAINING WORKSHOP is an integral part of everyday work for Bradley and other apprentices at STIHL Inc., just like at the German headquarters in Waiblingen. There, the career entrants train very intensively and under the guidance of experienced trainers, learning CNC machining, control techniques and project work for example. Today, this also includes content relating to networked production in relation to smart factories. For Bradley, four one-week workshop visits per year are also part of the training program.


As a student, I took part in the Summer Camp at STIHL and won with my team. That’s when I decided: I want to work here.
Bradley Holmes, Training as a mechatronics engineer


AT ONE OF THE FOUR BLOW-MOLDING MACHINES, Bradley monitors the manufacturing process for hollow plastic components. The highly automated production processes at the Virginia Beach site facilitate outstanding efficiency and an excellent level of quality. In just 32 seconds the STIHL 4180 fuel tank is shaped, welded, assembled and tested for leaks in an automation cell.

The training program enables us to monitor the quality of training for our skilled workers, ensuring that the right workforce is available for our jobs.
Skip Johnson, Training lead at STIHL Inc.
 Bradley goes through different stations.


BRADLEY GOES THROUGH SEVERAL STATIONS during his training. His favorite workplace is in plastics production, where fully automatic vibration welding is located. Individual components are attached together in this joining process. Plastics processing is a central manufacturing process at STIHL Inc. More than 16 million kilograms of resin are processed there annually in 24/7 shift operation by 90 injection molding machines, six trimmer line extruders and other state-of-the-art equipment.

End of the day


END OF THE DAY – but not for Bradley. For the American apprentices, they still have school to go to after their work at the company. The lessons start in the afternoon or in the evening at around 7 p.m. Bradley completed the theoretical part of his education at Tide Water Community College in 2019.

The selection process for an apprenticeship is tough. Out of more than 300 applicants, only four or five are ultimately taken on. Being one of them makes me proud.
Bradley Holmes, Training as a mechatronics engineer


TRAINING AT STIHL Inc. is not enough for the ambitious aspiring mechatronics engineer. For that reason, he therefore wants to complete his bachelor’s degree at Old Dominion University as quickly as possible and as soon as his shift schedule after training permits. Bradley gathers the strength for his many responsibilities in his free time. He spends that time with his girlfriend, at the gym, on his games console or with his parents and two dogs Arlo and Bella.



SKIP JOHNSON (59) is a training lead at STIHL Inc. and is very familiar with the successfully exported dual training: He successfully completed a German-American toolmaker apprenticeship back in 1988.

Interview with Skip Johnson 

What makes the dual training system as practiced in Germany so interesting for STIHL Inc.?

Among other reasons, the dual training system is interesting because the training, both in the classroom and in practice, is constantly being revised to take account of technological developments. The academic and practical projects change almost every year. Another advantage is that our apprentices receive the latest training on the newest available equipment. In addition, all career entrants receive the same basic training, so they have a common foundation on which to build.

When did STIHL Inc. start this type of training and what professions can young talents learn in Virginia Beach?

Since 1985 STIHL Inc. has had an apprenticeship program that is heavily based on manual machining and toolmaking. We started concentrating on the German dual education system about 15 years ago. As a result we began to focus on electromechanical maintenance, which has now become mechatronics, in addition to existing programs in the areas of machining and tool- and mold-making. We have also introduced four additional apprenticeships in the past 15 years. We therefore offer a total of six registered skilled trade paths: Mechatronics engineer, toolmaker, quality lab technician, CNC machine fitter, plastics process engineer, and plastics technician.

Does this training portfolio make STIHL Inc. unusual among American companies and do you see a competitive advantage in that?

Most companies do not offer this variety of training opportunities. Our selection process is unusual and also very stringent. But because of our good reputation as an employer and our collaboration with local schools and communities, we can choose from the best talent available.

You may also be interested in