Apprenticeship firms and workshops foster and maintain dual vocational training

Interview with Ms Jaqueline Brunner, STIHL GmbH & Co KG (chain saw production), responsible for training at the branch office in Wil

Female polymechanic at the lathe. (picture STIHL)

Current Concerns: I have read in the daily press that you have a training workshop with 47 apprentices, which is to be further developed aiming at more than 60 apprenticeships.

Jaqueline Brunner: Yes, that’s right. Currently, there are 52. This year some more youngsters started than completed their apprenticeship.

What are the professions you teach here in Wil?

In our two factories in Wil and Bronschhofen, there are now eight different apprenticeships, and nine starting from next summer: multi-discipline engineers, automation engineers, electricians and computer scientists (4 years of apprenticeship); production-mechanical technicians, logisticians and commercial apprentices (3 years), all with a Swiss Certificate of Qualification EFZ; mechanical practicians (2 years, with a Swiss Federal Vocational Certificate). Next year, the automotism installer (3 years) will be added. You do not find these professionals a dime a dozen on the market; that is why we train them ourselves. We have a great many plants we developed ourselves, which were built and developed by the principal firm in Waiblingen (D). An external service technician is not able to repair and maintain these – but that is what our internal specialists do.

This impressed me when I read the interview with Mr Zappe (“Wiler Nachrichten” from 18 May 2017) that you can cover your need for specialists from your own training workshop. Does this work well?

Yes, this summer we were able to hold 10 of our 14 graduates. We had many very good results in the final apprenticeship examinations, and we are, of course, proud when so many want to stay and if we have enough places for them.

As an international company, do you also look for your skilled personnel abroad?

We at the chain saw site are not international in the sense that we regularly look for specialists in the international area, but we need skilled workers who live in Switzerland, who have grown up and trained here. This is why the dual education system is very, very important and right for us and also for Switzerland.

What are your prerequisites for a teenager to serve his apprenticeship scheme at STIHL?

Personally, I think the most important thing is the enthusiasm for the profession: what will I learn here quite generally, and what will my training in this vocation look like in the next 2, 3 or 4 years? The second prerequisite is the educational requirement. In some apprenticeship occupations we have very high requirements, because it is not always easy to find the right learners. At STIHL, however, we also train academically weaker youngsters; we offer 2 young people an apprenticeship place in the two-year attestation training course in the mechanical field each year.

Then there are also personal requirements.

Yes, in addition to the interest in the profession and the school qualifications, this is the third most important prerequisite for me. We have a special STIHL culture; we deal with each other quite openly. So we get to know each other, although we are 900 employees altogether. When you meet, you shake hands. If you come from another company or start your apprenticeship here, you first have to get used to the fact that you shake hands with your co-workers and speak to each other, if briefly. However, this is very nice and makes for a familiar atmosphere. You have to bring along this openness or this personality, in order to feel comfortable here.
In the technical-mechanical field, we have a training workshop. There is very important that you can work well in a group. Some students prefer a small company with few people and where you relate directly to the boss. Then there are others who are better able to learn in a group where there are different learners in different stages of their apprenticeships, where they can support each other and also have a vocational trainer on hand to give help and advice. When it comes to recruiting, it is important to find out whether the individual fits well into our company or whether he can come to terms better in a smaller workshop with fewer people.
Of course, today we also have the problem that many school leavers do not bring along the necessary school basics, after 9 years of school. This is also a result of school reforms, that many students are no longer introduced to their subjects and guided along by their teachers. Have you also made the experience that the basics are lacking with many school leavers?
Long-term vocational educators repeatedly tell me that knowledge has decreased, especially in the mathematical-technical area. Today the emphasis is on foreign languages, and of course they are important for certain professions, but for some of our professions the technical and mathematical subjects are very important indeed. And we notice, of course, that the one or the other of our apprentices does have a deficiency there. The majority, about 80 per cent, cope very well with the start of their apprenticeship, but sometimes they do have to catch up in some points at the beginning, or they arrange for some additional assignments and learn how to do it. Then there are those who have more trouble at school. In our training workshop, they are very well supported by the professional trainers, who try to show the practical relevance because many youngsters understand the practise better than the theory.
It is also a good support if the vocational schools offer support courses, either in the form of specialised courses or as homework support, where they can go on Saturday morning. We also take the parents on board, because there are also young people who are more at liberty from the beginning of their apprenticeship onwards, and therefore they think that they will have less learning to do now. Together with the parents and the vocational schools and with what the vocational trainers in the company make possible for the learners, we put them back on track just about every time. What is the most important is that the learning young person finds out where to find the missing information, and that he realises that this is part of his education, and all these things will finally come together and form my course of apprenticeship. The learner has to learn, he has to want to learn, and then he will succeed.

Today pupils are often taught only insufficient basic knowledge of the German language as well as the practical subjects. What is your experience in this respect?

Yes, of course German is also very important. No matter what profession, from the attestation apprentices right up to students in the “Berufsmittelschulen” (vocational secondary schools), they are all taught German at vocational school, some additionally English, and at the KV (commercial college) also French. And at the firm, every learner has to be able to write reports or to present something to others. The final examination in their vocational training course includes a presentation with a dossier. There are very big differences. Some of them, I wonder how well they write – perhaps those are the ones who read a lot.
Formerly many apprentices used to have more practical opportunities in their spare time: at home one often had a small workshop; the father had perhaps completed some craft training and imparted some of his skills to his son or daughter, who then learnt to use a hammer or a drill in this way. Today, especially in the urban area, many youngsters have not had these experiences anymore. In the course of their manual training or arts and craft period, they sometimes produce “cool” things from metal and wood, if they have good teachers. There are, however, also those with whom the arts and craft lesson is rather a time to play around.

What would you like primary schools to teach?

During the three years I have been at STIHL, I have been able to get to know a lot of teachers from the higher levels of primary school. Many come to visit us, so as to get some knowledge of the professions that we train. I would like the teachers to continue to invest so much commitment into the career choice of their students. Also, I would like to see more schools make a stand for “Mint” projects [i.e. mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology], so that more students will be able to get experience of technical and practical activities, in projects in cooperation with industry and trade, even outside school.     •

WorldSkills Competition in Abu Dhabi 2017: Young Swiss professional people bring 20 medals

mw. The WorldSkills Competition takes place every 2 years at changing venues. Young professionals up to 22 years of age are admitted as participants.
A total of 38 young Swiss nationals travelled to the Worldskills Competition in Abu Dhabi. There they competed with around 1,300 participants from 58 countries for four days. With its 20 awards, including eleven gold medals, Switzerland ranks second/third (Switzerland has the second largest number of gold medals, Korea has more medals altogether) in the 2010 WorldSkills, which took place 15–18 October. The first place – and that should really give us who live in the Western world food for thought – is held by China.
Trade groups and other professional organisations are given the unique opportunity to strengthen the reputation of vocational training in the public view by national and international professional competitions. In Switzerland, the SwissSkills Foundation organises Swiss competitions in more than 70 professions every year, so having since 1953 enabled young professionals to participate in the WorldSkills Competition. (Source: swiss-skills.ch)
The Swiss medallists:

Gold

Cédric Achermann, Altbüron LU, and Fabien Gyger, Spiez BE (automation engineer)
Manuel Allenspach, Gossau SG (IT / Software-Solutions)
Marcel Wyss, Grindelwald BE (installer of sanitary facilities and heating systems)
Emil von Wattenwyl, Kehrsatz BE (web design and development)
Beat Schranz, Adelboden BE (electrician)
Simon Furrer, Gunzwil LU (plant electrician)
Sven Bürki, Lanzenneunforn TG (cabinet maker)
Tatjana Caviezel, Uetliburg SG (restaurant service)
Irina Tuor, Breil / Brigels GR (health professional)
Ramona Bolliger, Gontenschwil AG (baker, pastry chef, confectioner)
Adrian Krähenbühl, Niederösch BE (construction and agricultural machine mechanic)

Silver

Marco Michel, Kerns OW (multi-disciplined engineer / automation)
Heiko Zumbrunn, Wittinsburg BL (car body designer, tin smith)
Jannic Schären, Gerzensee BE (electronic engineer)
Sandra Lüthi, Burgdorf BE (decorative painter)
Florian Nock, Turbenthal ZH (carpenter)
Benjamin Räber, Herlisberg LU, and Nils Bucher, Sarnen OW (landscape gardeners)

Bronze

Janine Bigler, Lenzburg AG (printing technologist)
Fabio Holenstein, Bazenheid SG (joiner)
Maurus von Holzen, Dallenwil NW (car body designer and varnisher)
Special prize: Beat Schranz wins the title “Best of Nation”. He scored the highest overall score in the Swiss team with 767 points. (Source: sda)