The label "Made in Germany" is a guarantee of the highest quality of product. This situation has largely been due to the standard of approach to training of high-class professionals for blue-collar jobs. We have discussed some of the nuances of professional technicians’ training with Frank Muller, Chief Executive Officer of the affiliate «ZAW Zentrum für Aus-und Weiterbildung Leipzig GmbH» in the Leipzig Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
– Mr. Muller, what does your company do?
The company «ZAW Zentrum für Aus– und Weiterbildung Leipzig GmbH» is an interdisciplinary center for primary vocational training and upgrading, which is a 100 % subsidiary company of the Leipzig Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Our Center has already been working for about 20 years. Nowadays it provides a whole range of services regarding professional education: from vocational guidance of schoolchildren, to vocational training of employees in large corporations. Many German companies cannot afford to hold their own professional training sessions at the appropriate level, although they must do it. They come to us, and our main task is to help them in professional manpower development. The high quality of services provided by our Center is well known not only among small and medium-sized enterprises, but also among large companies. For example, we train specialists for the BMW factory and receive an order from the company “Deutsche Bahn” to train 175 people in our Center every year.
We conduct training for 22 professions and, in fact, we are an interdisciplinary educational Center. We train professionals in a wide variety of areas – from welders to professionals working with CNC, and even five-axis machines. All this knowledge is necessary in order to pass examinations based on our professional training.
Currently, our Center employs 167 people. Our annual turnover is 11 million euros. This is not all though, as we're going to continue to expand our range of services.
– Is the fact that your Center was created 20 years ago connected with the unification of Germany?
Yes, it was 20 years ago when the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist and today's FRG was created. A vocational school existed in the GDR at large plants, which was used for training their workforce, and they also trained employees for smaller companies – the same as it was in the Soviet Union. And in the FRG there was already a dual system of vocational training – it grew out of the crafts of 150 years ago, when the medium or small craft enterprises had to train their own employees. This system was also implemented in industry during the period of industrialization.
After the war, the victorious countries determined that in future, the FRG will be based on federal guidelines. The country was divided into 16 federal states, and the issues of school education were delegated to the agencies of the federal lands. Industry representatives stepped in and said that they could only permit a school education, but not vocational training. Therefore, there is only one education strategy which relates to vocational training.
As a result, nowadays, in our school education there is the following awkward situation: if a young man who has finished school in Hamburg (Federal State of Hamburg in Northern Germany) moves to Munich (federal state of Bavaria in Southern Germany), where he wants to enter University, his school certificate may not be accepted at the Munich University, as in Munich they have different requirements as to the level of education needed to enter University. School programs in Hamburg and Munich are different. However, if a person was trained in mechatronics in Hamburg, then he can go to work in Munich or any other city – every employer will know that his degree indicates the same amount of knowledge and skills.
– Can you give any specific reasons why businesses turn to your center and do not provide training on their own?
In Germany, vocational training usually takes place in two places: in the company itself and in a vocational school. There are two reasons for choosing our Center. On the one hand there are things that we know better than the companies themselves. The second reason is that there is often a lack of spare capacity in enterprises, which is necessary for pre-exam training. We also have these capacities.
– It's hard to believe that the BMW factory, which you mentioned, does not have sufficient knowledge and places for vocational training.
You are right. The BMW factory in Munich, for example, has everything you need for self-vocational training. But the BMW plant in Leipzig was built relatively recently, and the concept of its construction was somewhat different. The BMW factory in Leipzig decided from the very beginning: “We do not need huge areas for professional education as in Munich. We need space for production, and for vocational education we will have a small workshop.” By taking this step, the management of the BMW factory in Leipzig started looking for vocational training centers in our region that could meet their needs for training of high-class professionals for their factory. They have chosen our Center, because, firstly, the Center is well equipped and has modern machines. Secondly, all of our teachers are highly qualified; they are the masters who have been appropriately trained for being teachers. It must be said that we pay great attention to the professional development of our staff.
– Do you perform real production contracts on equipment available at the Center?
No, we cannot do this because we are a non-profit organization and our only order is vocational education. And to be honest, I would not want to do small orders for businesses because professional training is much more interesting.
– Major companies are trying to develop their own better production technologies. In the BMW factory they probably use unique technologies for welding and painting. And in this case, if you need to train welders for BMW, are the companies willing to reveal their secrets to your Center in order to get those workers whom they need?
No, they are not willing, and they do not have to reveal their professional know-how. In Germany, it is called a "trade secret" and it should remain within the company. With regard to education, there is a refresher course for established welders. The company teaches all the secret subtleties of proprietary technologies to the welders itself.
– How is the process of learning organized – individually or through teamwork?
We use different techniques – the work is carried out by a master individually with each student, or in groups within the framework of a common project. But we strictly control the group size so is not too large – ideally only 4 to 12 people. Our workplace is designed for these capacities.
– Tell me, please, are the orders from large and small businesses different in their specificity?
I cannot say that the specificity of orders for the training maintenance depends on the size of the enterprise. Only the amount of students is different. Of course, the BMW factory sends us more people than a small enterprise. For example, we can have an order for one or two people from a small company, but for a whole group from BMW factory. Another difference is that a large company can afford to offer additional qualifications to a young worker for 3.5 years of primary vocational education. Small businesses usually cannot offer such opportunities. Despite this, a student from a small business can still pass the exam better than the student of the BMW factory.
– Who takes, and how do you take, the exam in professional training?
In Germany, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI) perform state order in which they organize the examinations and carry out vocational training. CCI is responsible for the creation of examination committees, thus ensuring complete neutrality of the examinations. The members of the examination committees are representatives of employers, educational institutions, research institutes, etc. A young man takes an exam in front of the committee, which he sees for the first time in his life. Accordingly, the committee also sees him for the first time.
– What is the motivation of those who sit in the examination committee?
Maybe this sounds somewhat funny, but the people who are the members of the examination committee, get great pleasure from taking the exams. They consider it to be their mission. In addition, business leaders release them from their work on the day of the exam, because they are interested in making this exam available for future employees with an independent and unbiased assessment.
– What if a student does not pass the exam? What are the consequences?
It is possible to re-take the exam. You can re-take 3 times, the third re-take is allowed only in oral form. If a student has not passed the exam within three sittings, then he just would not be considered a specialist. He will not get a Certificate of Chamber of Commerce and Industry for completed vocational training in a particular occupation.
It is important to note an important difference between Russian and German vocational training. It is the role of the enterprise. When a young man begins his professional training, he firstly has a contract with a professional training company. But if the student does not pass the exam, it does not mean that he will lose his place in the enterprise. Perhaps he failed the vocational and theoretical examination, but he may have very good practical skills and abilities. However, if he passes the exam, his salary would be higher.
– Is it possible to take a refresher training course at your own expense?
No, in Germany it’s impossible. If a young person wants to get a blue-collar job, the first thing, while still studying at school, is to find a company that is willing to sign a contract with them and then to offer them a job.
Speaking of higher education, for example, I can say that parents who have enough money can pay for their child’s education in some private University. However it can be only for higher education. It is not possible for vocational training.
– Are there other ways to get a blue-collar occupation in Germany apart from the dual system?
There are a number of professions that do not go with the dual system – they are considered to be the format of the school of education, such as the profession of a speech therapist. But these professions are becoming less and less popular. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry isn’t related to them.
– There is a feeling that it’s more difficult to get a blue-collar job than a higher education in Germany...
The fact is that vocational training in Germany has a different value than that in Russia. It seems that the level of vocational training in Germany is high enough. For example, mechatronics in Germany is no different from the profession of an engineer. Firstly, I take a course in mechatronics for 3.5 years as a part of vocational training. Then I go to work for the company and I know that if I have to, I can upgrade my skills during the 1.5 years it takes to get a Master’s Degree while at work. If I succeed, I'm already at the bachelor's level anyway.
– But the workers and engineering professions are based on differing human nature. Blue-collar jobs are connected primarily with manual labor that is the connection with the nervous system and muscles. The engineer's activity is based on intellectual work.
This is not completely true. Of course, not everyone is good at engineering because it requires a certain mentality. But recently we found out that a vocational education in Germany is becoming more complex and requires more and more intellectual ability from students, not just the ability to work physically. Industry requires highly skilled workers to be more independent. For example, there is a workshop in which there are 25-30 CNC machine tools, and the worker must be able to service them himself. And not only to press the "on / off" button, but also to perform all the operations, repair and adjust the machine if necessary, and to write reports.
– So, the personnel are trained to work not just on the assembly line?
Not always. For example, BMW has an assembly line where trained automotive mechatronics staff work. In this company they decided to make it a standard quality for everyone who works on the assembly line to get an education in mechatronics. But the other side is that if these employees are not involved in other areas, then in 3 or 4 years later they leave their jobs. They were not fired; they leave themselves, rejecting a good salary because of monotonous and uninteresting work. Then they start looking for an employer who will offer them a more interesting job in the profession. And then the game begins. To avoid this situation, BMW chooses the best mechatronics staff from their employees then provides them with a refresher course and enables them to grow professionally.
– That is, you’re saying that at some point the assembly-line worker can get in a science lab?
Alternatively they can. There are different ways. For example, they become a master of production, thus rising to senior management. If they worked in this business for a long time, then they can get a higher education and become an engineer.
– You mentioned that the choice of business is often made while studying at school. But how can an enterprise understand if this student suits them or not? It's a big risk.
The system here is as follows: the school program in Germany provides a compulsory vocational guidance course. This course allows the students to try different professions – they are given the opportunity to work with wood, metal and other materials. While they are doing the course, employers are watching them. When the young person writes a request to the company to provide him with opportunity to get a profession, the employer examines them for the second time. They invited for an interview where they can talk directly with the owner of the company, or an authorized representative, with a recruiter for example. The way the conversation goes can usually and accurately ascertain if this young person suits them well.
– Are the students in Germany independent in their decision-making or do their parents have an influence on them?
The role of parents in the decision-making of a young person is extremely high. Parents often decide everything.
– What if the child grew up and suddenly realized that they are no longer interested in what they have learned. Are there a lot who would change their chosen profession later on?
The percentage of such cases is increasing every year. And the reason for it is not only parents, but also the fact that the young specialist cannot assess the impact and / or the opportunities offered by the profession before or during study. Therefore, during study at school, there are a number of activities for children and their parents that help them to see what skills and abilities their child has, and what he or she likes the most. There are several models of action. I'll talk about our model. This work begins with a three-day analysis, in which we compile an individual profile for each child, which reveals their skills. As a rule, we do it for 7th grade children. After creating a profile and identifying their skills, children attend our Center for 10 working days. During this time they try 5 jobs – they work with metal, wood, paint, etc.
– Do the children choose what they are interested in?
On the one hand, we have a profile with the identified interests of the child. On the other hand, we pay attention to what the child is and is not good at. We also use one interesting method – the introduction of "anti-example". Thus, if in the child's profile it is written that they are good in social professions, often people would think that in this case they would also be interested in the creative professions. So, during the 10-day practice, we give a child the opportunity to try to work with metal and we show that the steel industry may also involve a lot of creativity. That is the objective of vocational guidance – not to react to the child’s wishes immediately, but to show them other opportunities for self-realization. In addition, we try to show them something they would not know or could not know. For example, how could the child have any comprehension of what it is like to work with metal beforehand?
– What are the challenges in your work?
The biggest challenge in the coming years is a demographic one, which covers not only our company or region, but the whole of Germany in general. So for us an important element in the whole system of vocational education is career guidance. Our main aim is to explain to young boys and girls how to focus on professions which are needed in their region, and not to only study to be a hairdresser or retailer.
Many businesses have realized the importance of lifelong learning and therefore offer their staff not only the possibility of getting a profession or taking refresher course, but also lifelong learning in the workplace. And we also do it.
– Do you have experience of cooperation with China? Do you have any specific experience in this area?
For many years we have been implementing a large project. It is an education in three fields: logistics and warehousing, technical draftsmanship and automotive mechatronics. The Chinese have adopted the German system of vocational education for these occupations without any adaptations. As the students take the exam using our materials and in the presence of representatives of the Leipzig Chamber of Commerce and Industry, they also receive a certificate from the Leipzig Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which gives great opportunities to the graduates.
– We know that you are also willing to cooperate with Russia. How do you plan to work with our experts, because our mentality is very different? Whereas in Germany it is important to use technology and procedures, in Russia people learn from their mistakes. That is why we are often able to come up with something new, but then not do it regularly.
Of course it is a very important issue, and it is clear that it will be impossible to use the educational system of Germany in Russia the same way. Therefore we assign a huge element for scientific work, in which two universities – the German and Russian – will together adapt our programs for the Russian market.