Association paves way here for foreign trainees It cuts through red tape for grateful U.S. firms

January 03, 1996|By Charles R. Wolpoff | Charles R. Wolpoff,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When a pharmaceutical company wants to train someone from Tanzania or an organic food processor wants to train an East German, an ocean of paperwork stands in the way.

But the Association for International Practical Training in Columbia's Town Center is one of a handful of companies nationwide that specializes in sailing over that ocean. AIPT helps cut through the bureaucracy and works to ensure the training programs are legitimate -- and not just a way for a U.S. company to get cheap labor.

"We can help anybody coming into the U.S. as long as they have a [training] job," said Gary Hritz, AIPT information officer. The programs last from three weeks to 18 months.

"We couldn't have done it without them," said Stacy Hartranft, training coordinator for the United States Pharmacopeia Inc. in Rockville. The company has used several trainees, from England, Canada, Tanzania, Lithuania, Denmark and Peru.

Trainee from Tanzania

Alan Muwaza of Tanzania was a three-month trainee through October at Pharmacopeia, which helps set drug standards enforced by the Food and Drug Administration and publishes drug information for health care practitioners and consumers.

Before leaving, Mr. Muwaza said he would take to Tanzania information from his training program, including guidelines for establishing drug information centers in developing countries.

He also learned that a pain killer banned in the United States and Canada still is used in Tanzania. The drug can cause many negative side effects, including cancer.

"I'll go back and say, 'Look, here's this drug which causes this, this and this and has been banned here, here and here and we still give it to people,' " he said.

AIPT helped Mr. Muwaza obtain his visa. To get the permit, he had to show the U.S. job was a bona fide training program and that he intended to return to his country when the job was finished.

The Columbia firm's involvement is essential to small companies and young workers who may not otherwise have the time or knowledge to complete the paperwork, Ms. Hartranft said.

Company saves money

"Without them, we couldn't have [foreign] trainees," she said. "We'd have to establish a program on our own," an expensive proposition for all but the largest companies.

And AIPT is growing. In 1969, only 202 foreign trainees used AIPT's services. In 1994, AIPT assisted 1,620 trainees entering the United States from 59 different countries.

During that time, AIPT has ballooned from two employees and a budget of about $46,000 to 28 employees with a budget of about $2 million.

Unlike other foreign exchange organizations, AIPT focuses on job-training related programs, as opposed to study abroad or cultural exchange programs.

"If you want to see typical tourist sights, this is not what you want to do," said Robert M. Sprinkle, executive director.

AIPT also tries to assure that the host employer will provide competitive wages, inform the trainee about the country's culture and help provide housing.

"We don't want anyone sleeping on a park bench just to get job training," Mr. Hritz said.

The training programs have proved beneficial for both the companies and trainees.

Kay Tittel, who is from a small village in the former East Germany, is training as an export coordinator for an organic grain processor and flour mill in Kansas. Ms. Tittel is providing her host employer with valuable information about cultural differences between the two countries.

When doing business with Germans, write things down and don't waste time on pleasantries, she said.

Germany is one of a handful of European countries that provide most of the foreign trainees who use AIPT's services; others include France, Britain, Netherlands and Switzerland. The five countries provided more than half of the 1,620 foreign trainees the company processed in 1994.

U.S. workers helped

AIPT also helps U.S. workers who want to train in other countries, but few want to venture outside of the United Kingdom. Mr. Sprinkle attributes this to the fact that many Americans do not speak a foreign language.

When AIPT began 45 years ago, the company focused on student exchanges. That part of the business still exists, as the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Expertise. Today, 63 countries participate.

In the early 1970s, AIPT decided to expand beyond student exchanges and handle exchanges involving professionals and those in the hospitality and tourism industries. It also moved from midtown Manhattan to its offices across from The Mall in Columbia to be closer to Washington.

Last year, the association marked its 45th anniversary. This year, however, will be Mr. Sprinkle's last at the company. He will leave Jan. 26 to start an international human resource consulting firm in Owen Brown village.

His successor at AIPT, who likely won't be named until June, will face a much different situation than Mr. Sprinkle faced when he took charge of the two-person organization. Today, with a staff that can handle the details, the new executive director can focus on the big picture.

They no longer need at the top "someone who can do visa documents from memory," Mr. Sprinkle said. "They don't need a clone of me."

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