Every year, large numbers of young Germans start an apprenticeship. This is an important first career step, also for firms hoping to grow their next generation of managers. Around the same time (usually in August), the press is full of headlines about open apprenticeships with no applicants. Demographic change, lower student numbers, and shifts in perception regarding vocational training are just three factors journalists point to when this happens. While politicians, trade associations, and the trade guilds look for ways to make young people more interested in vocational training, the companies themselves have been rolling up their sleeves and have thought up their own, future-oriented training concepts. Their investments are worth it. At many companies, apprentices become committed workers that stay much longer with the company than average. The Steinbeis Transfer Institute for System Science, Management, and Consulting, which is part of Steinbeis University Berlin, has been working on a modular training scheme aimed at improving everyday vocational skills in collaboration with the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Strategic Management – Innovation – Cooperation.
When young people start their apprenticeships, they find themselves in a completely foreign setting and face totally new expectations. Their everyday circles now include co-workers, bosses, suppliers, and clients. Figuring out “how to behave and how to adjust the way I communicate with others” is one of the first major challenges to be mastered. This learning process is supported by the Steinbeis experts in a six-part training course that was first organized in late 2015, initially for a group of industrial and commercial apprentices working at manufacturing companies just outside Vechta. The training was set up under a Steinbeis initiative supported by Diana Diephaus, an official representative of the German Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (BVMW). Several companies were involved in the collaboration. Because firms can book the cooperative training sessions together, it is also possible for small businesses with only a few apprentices to offer in-house courses to their trainees. The scheme even allows individual apprentices to sit in as a guest on training sessions offered at larger companies. The collaboration is being jointly coordinated by Steinbeis and the BVMW.
The pilot training scheme lasted seven hours and focused on the switch from being at school to being an apprentice – plus the impact this has on becoming independent, assuming responsibility, and communicating appropriately in everyday situations. Afterwards, the course participants agreed on one thing: The training was well worth it! They were not simply presented with information, they could acquire knowledge, communication strategies, and new behaviors under the supervision of the trainers and then link this to their daily work and things they had experienced so far.
“What we’re finding is that lots of apprentices have never consciously thought about how they communicate or prepared for discussions or had to deal with their own shortcomings. These are often things that just somehow happened; they either went well or badly,” say Karola Jamnig-Stellmach and Larissa Ney, describing their observations during the first round of training. The Steinbeis experts would like to create greater awareness for the fact that apprentices can actively manage communication and take responsibility for this themselves. This is a first step in proactively managing their own training, consciously “thinking solutions,” building a rapport with co-workers, and being approachable to customers.
Plans are already underway to develop the next parts of the apprentice training. “Our training allows us to work with the apprentices on their everyday vocational skills, which means their social and communication abilities, and their problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. It’s particularly areas like this that knowledge transfer is so important. So as of this year we’re offering further support. We’ll keep finishing the training just as we have until now and identify practical targets for the apprentices, as in ‘What do the things they’ve learned mean for them’ and ‘What do they now want to do with this knowledge?’ But what’s new is the ongoing support after the training sessions in a digital format that’s not expensive for the companies,” explains Jamnig-Stellmach.
Steinbeis Transfer Institute System Science, Management and Consulting (Berlin/Bremen)