10 years of apprenticeship at Sulzer – From a stopgap solution to a guarantor of success
10 years of apprenticeship at Sulzer – From a stopgap solution to a guarantor of success

10 years of apprenticeship at Sulzer – From a stopgap solution to a guarantor of success

We have been training young talents at Sulzer for ten years. Hagen Roth was there as our first trainer. The lead developer looks back at the beginnings of the training and tells us why a stopgap solution became a success story.

Hello Hagen, you were the first trainer at Sulzer GmbH. Tell us something about the beginnings. Why did you start training?

Ten years ago, Sulzer had quite a few problems finding specialists in the SAP environment, and in my case, I not only have a degree in computer science, but I am also a trained IT specialist, and I myself did the training more than 20 years ago. Our managing director at the time, Albert Euba, was aware of this and approached me to ask whether I thought it would be possible to recruit and train these missing SAP specialists myself. I thought that was a very good idea and that’s how I got involved in the whole thing. I then took my training certificate at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and started to set up the training program and coordinate it with the Chamber.

We then conducted the first interviews and hired the first trainees.


Why did you decide to become a trainer?

When I started at Sulzer in 2006, training was not yet an issue. That actually came later. Since I had done my own apprenticeship, I saw how an apprenticeship should run and also how it should not run. At that time, I had a lot of light and shadow, and sometimes the light was not able to cover the shadow. I then said to myself, well, okay, then I’ll just make sure that I bring in my experience and approach some things a little differently than I did back then.


What was your first apprenticeship at Sulzer?

The first apprenticeship was as an IT specialist specializing in application development and later as an IT specialist specializing in system integration. Gradually, the other locations also started to offer training. In the meantime, other training programs have been added, such as office management.


What were your biggest challenges as a trainer?

The challenge at the beginning was that we had little experience with training in the company. We first had to show our colleagues what training actually meant. What does it mean when I take on trainees in the project, for example, compared to the possibility of taking on student interns. You can’t expect to have someone of the quality of a student intern sitting there with a trainee in the project. With students, you can assume a certain level of understanding and knowledge. This is not possible with trainees, because they basically start from scratch. That’s why it’s called training.

It’s good if someone already has some prior knowledge, but you don’t have to know programming beforehand. For many, the fact that an apprentice takes longer to become firmly involved in a project was a learning effect.


Did you sometimes have the role of mediator between permanent employees and trainees?

What do you mean by mediator, I mean in some situations I simply tried to make it clear to the project leaders what an apprenticeship means. What’s in store for them, what they can expect and what they shouldn’t expect. On the trainee side, the advantage was that there were not so many expectations. Most apprentices just want to learn how to program.


Did you have any other challenges?

The biggest challenge was to make it clear what a trainee or apprentice brings to me in a project. When in doubt, I answered that you teach him or her exactly what you need in the project and that trainees are an investment for the future. In the end, you have colleagues who have exactly the knowledge that is required for the project.


Has apprenticeship training at Sulzer changed in the 10 years, and if so, how?

In the past few years, the subject has become bigger. In the beginning, we only had the IT specialist for application development. This was followed by the IT specialist for system integration, and in the meantime, there is also a commercial clerk for office management as an apprenticeship at Sulzer.

Later, all the branches were added, i.e. Ingolstadt, Magdeburg, Stuttgart, where there is now also training everywhere. It is also much more structured compared to how I started back then. Back then, I did all the training myself. You first had to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work.

You can design a lot, but you can’t tell if it’s going to work yet, you don’t know until you’ve run the whole thing for a while and you just have a feel for what the reaction is. And so the whole thing has gradually built up and has now become a big established institution.


What were and are the best/weirdest/or most annoying moments for you as an instructor?

The best moments are when the trainees pass their final exams and I can release my flock into independence.

I can’t really name any weird or annoying moments. As a trainer, you simply have to be prepared for anything. For example, a 16-year-old trainee asks if the company has a problem with a tattoo. I then answered that the company has nothing against it, but if you want some fatherly advice, then only get tattoos in places that you can cover up with a piece of clothing.

Basically, it’s like the project. It can be a little rougher at times, but when the project is completed in the end, then you’re happy. Then, of course, you’re always happy when the trainees stay with Sulzer.


What are the points that make an apprenticeship at Sulzer recommendable?

The human aspect is what distinguishes us. You can always sort out and address everything with us. We always tell our trainees that, because there is nothing worse than when something goes wrong for three years and you could have done something about it. We also try to pass on this humanity during the training.


What do you wish for the training at Sulzer in the future?

My wish for the future is that the development continues, that we can continue to accompany our trainees so well in the projects and that we continue to get such good candidates as in the past. After all, we have already produced the best apprentices of the year in several IHK districts. We can be really proud of that.


What is the most important thing you would like to pass on to the apprentices?

That’s a difficult question. With Corona and everything that came along with it, we naturally had quite a few challenges in training. The trainees were also in the home office for a long time and we had to somehow create a training program from the trainer’s point of view that still worked and made sense.

The main difficulty was that we couldn’t see each other in person. That was certainly not easy for one or the other trainee. But we received feedback that we had done a good job. But the time certainly had an impact on the trainees. We’ve told the trainees in the home office to coordinate with each other often, or to eat remote pizza together during their lunch break to keep in touch.


What is the most important thing you give or want the trainees to take away?

The most important thing is that they always stay on the ball and don’t say after the training, okay now I have my training, now I’m done. You have to keep developing and keep learning. Especially in software development, it’s important to know what new technologies are out there, what’s new on the market and where you can develop further.

In the IT environment, the worst thing is to stand still. Even if you are in a fixed project, you should still look around to see what’s new. Every project comes to an end at some point, and then when you get into a new project, you have to be able to learn the ropes quickly. The learning never stops.


If someone is undecided about which apprenticeship is right for them, what would you advise?

I would recommend going to apprenticeship fairs. At these fairs, you can approach the companies and find out about different training opportunities and also ask questions. For example, you can ask which apprenticeships the respective companies offer or what the daily work routine is like.

And the second important component, in my opinion, is simply to do an internship and just get a taste of what it’s like for a while. Such an internship is helpful if it lasts at least two weeks. Anything less than that is simply too little.

I have often seen applicants who were here for a week and then, after a week, were finally ready to understand something and could have started working. But then the internship was already over.

You should also see what you enjoy, because there are two bad things you should avoid. The first is to drop out of an apprenticeship; you should make sure that you complete the apprenticeship that you started.

And even worse is to finish the training and then work 40/50 years in a profession that is not fun. That’s why you should find out through internships, interviews and information if the profession would be something for you.


Do you just have any questions or things you would like to get off your chest about 10 years of training?

In closing, I would like to say that I am really proud of how it has all turned out. It’s a great feeling to see what it has become and how the training has now become a successful concept for Sulzer. I am curious to see what will happen in the next few years and in which direction it will develop, both on the side of the applicants and for us.


Thank you very much for the interview