Training on the Job: How Apprenticeships Help Companies and Students Achieve Long-term Success
BIOTRONIK employees share their experiences
Countries like Germany and Switzerland have a long history of apprenticeships and degrees that integrate vocational training into their programs, enabling high school graduates to become familiar with both the practical and theoretical aspects of their chosen careers. However, what used to be a sought after, well-established career path has faced a downward decline. And, as recent data shows, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. In 2020, the number of new apprenticeships in Germany dropped by 9.4% compared to 2019. A recent study also finds more than 70% of German teenagers say opportunities on the job market have diminished during the COVID-19 crisis — with young people seeking vocational training being among those most affected. So what’s at stake for companies and potential apprentices when these unique training opportunities decrease?
Investing in future employees
BIOTRONIK has offered vocational training programs for decades, with the first apprentices joining the company in the late 1970s. Currently, 67 apprentices are participating in training programs at sites in Germany and Switzerland. They receive practical training at the company and combine this with knowledge building at a vocational school or technical college. At BIOTRONIK, vocational training programs focus on either technical professions (apprentices can learn to become mechatronics technicians, tool mechanics or IT specialists for system integration, for example) or commercial professions (such as administrative officers or warehouse logistics specialists). In degree programs, students can graduate in areas like industrial or mechanical engineering.
“We offer our training programs with the aim of hiring our apprentices once their programs are completed. They are very valuable to us; they’re already familiar with the company and have the needed theoretical and practical skills.”
“The programs start in late summer and they last between two and 3.5 years,” explains Axel Koch, training manager at BIOTRONIK in Berlin, who is the contact person for 24 apprentices. “We offer our training programs with the aim of hiring our apprentices once their programs are completed. They are very valuable to us; they’re already familiar with the company and have the needed theoretical and practical skills.”
“I find it exciting to observe which development path young colleagues take in such a short time. At the beginning they are usually a bit insecure and shy but become more and more confident. Over the course of the program they start to question things, act proactively, implement, organize, and become independent,” adds Karin Miller, who coordinates the apprenticeship training at BIOTRONIK’s site in Buelach, Switzerland.
Gaining practical experience while contributing to the team’s success
While the benefits for companies seem clear, what’s in it for young people just starting out in their careers? We asked current and former participants about why they chose this track.
“I wanted to do something practical after graduating from high school. What I like about my apprenticeship is that I’m able to work in different parts of the company and as a result, have many different experiences. And, based on my interests, I can stay longer or return to a specific department,” explains mechatronics apprentice Anne-Katrin Gerstmann.
The variety of teams and tasks is what Francisca Correia, who completed her commercial training at BIOTRONIK in Buelach last year, appreciated most as well. “I gained many insights into various departments, such as production planning, corporate sales support, event and congress management, and accounting. And I always felt I was part of the team.”
“My apprenticeship as an IT specialist covers many of my private hobbies and the tasks are very diverse, from programming web applications and scripts in the content management systems to repairing hardware,” says Jakob Matz. The 20-year-old joined BIOTRONIK in September 2019. “Also, I really enjoy being part of a company that contributes to people’s health and quality of life. It’s not always easy to find this aspect in a job when you want to work in IT.”
Training variety and taking pride in your work also motivates Jeffrey Kranz, a student in industrial electronics at BIOTRONIK: “I wanted to join a company like BIOTRONIK where the main competency is electrical engineering. At the same time, I am fully involved in the team’s bigger projects and tasks. It’s a good feeling to know that your work matters instead of completing hypothetical tasks only for the sake of learning.” The 21-year-old currently supports our quality management team in Berlin and is developing an automation process for analyzing cardiac devices.
“When I started my apprenticeship in 1978, I was amazed how everybody — no matter what profession or degree — worked closely together. Even a very young beginner like myself was treated with a lot of respect."
“When I started my apprenticeship in 1978, I was amazed how everybody — no matter what profession or degree — worked closely together. Even a very young beginner like myself was treated with a lot of respect,” recalls Jörg Flister, who has been with the company for 43 years now. After completing a 3.5 year-long program to become a toolmaker, Flister soon started training new apprentices himself.
When looking for career options: think outside the box and do your research
As we learned from our younger colleagues, apprenticeships, both with and without a university degree component, offer many benefits. So why don’t more high school graduates choose this career path? Perhaps we should offer more information on institutional level. “I always admired young people who knew early on what they wanted to do in life. Knowing the possibilities is a real challenge though. I think they should teach a sort of “occupational science” in school,” suggests Jörg Flister.
According to a recent study on German youth, when it comes to career choices, the family remains the main source of information for students between the ages of 14 and 17, while other sources such as job centers, career fairs and the internet play a less important role. This might be surprising, especially in a time where an abundance of information is available online. Training manager Axel Koch recommends that high school students research what kind of programs exist and what particular training involves. “For example, who has an idea what a cutting machine operator does? In Germany, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and online channels like YouTube, offer great insights into specific careers.”
There is great potential in thinking beyond the careers of relatives. “I’ve been interested in informatics since I was nine years old. So, for my professional career, I chose something I enjoy in my spare time,” explains future IT specialist Jakob Matz.
Jeffrey Kranz encourages those interested to talk to peers and older students: “When I considered a study program in industrial electronics, I reached out to college students who had already participated in the program to learn about their experiences. That was really valuable.”
Making a difference with training programs
Despite the general downward trend in apprenticeship numbers, many professionals have and continue to pursue this career path. The experiences of our panel showed that apprenticeships help companies attract and equip promising candidates with everything they need to know for a future career. Students and apprentices, on the other hand, benefit from the diversity of practical tasks, insights into different departments and the prospect of permanent employment. That’s why BIOTRONIK believes in the value of such education programs and continues to invest in them. If you are interested in learning more, you can find our career options for apprentices and students here.