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In Germany there’s the so called Dual Apprenticeship System. Apprentices are trained at vocational school (Berufsschule) and at the company. Last year I was asked to instruct an apprentice IT Application Specialist (in german “Fachinformatiker Anwendungsentwicklung”).  At first I was sceptical. Am I up to the challenge? Will the apprentice fit into the team? Will I be a good tutor? Will the apprentice cost a lot of my time, so that my other project activities might suffer? 

I had some experience with the tutoring of young specialists, but so far they had been working students who had already been at college for several semesters and who sometimes knew their way around in the company already and who in any case had a solid background in technical knowledge about software. How would it be with an apprentice? Would I ask too much of him?

 One thing I want to say first: So far the apprenticeship has been a story of success. We have found a young, engaged staff member who integrated well into the team and who assiduously does his work and who enjoys his job.  However, for me this meant a lot of preparation, for I didn’t wanted to leave things to chance: I wanted a job candidate who fit the team and with whom I could work well. How could I achieve that? 

„What Makes a Good Instructor / Tutor?“

 I asked this question to all my friends who did an IT apprenticeship and I also asked it the staff members at my company who already had some experience with apprentices. I also registered at portals for apprentices and asked the same question there and I went on asking: “What works well? What could be better”. When apprentices complained about their instructors, it almost always was the case that too little attention was paid to the apprentice and that he didn’t get any adequate assignments.  From the reports of the apprentices I learned how much the applicant has to fit the company. And as the first months in a company are essential to the formation of a beginner, he should feel good in this first department of his apprenticeship. 

Marks Are Not Important – Are They?

  When I had the first letters of application for the apprenticeship at hand, I was somewhat shocked fort he marks in many cases weren’t what I had expected. I also was disappointed by myself, for evidently I was judging the job applicants first and foremost based on their marks.  I’m quite critical towards the school system, as I often felt it was a place of boredom and repression, and submission to often outdated knowledge. Further on I was unhappy with the situation in the classroom, for it was impossible to adjust the learning curve to the single student: some were bored to tears, while others felt overtaxed. Nevertheless most pupils had managed to deal with school work – a thing many of my job applicants obviously failed to do.  So how should I deal with their marks? I decided that they were not necessarily informative, and started to look more closely at the letters of application. Soon I realized that I couldn’t judge a person adequately neither by their letter, nor by their interview.  

Getting to Know the Job Applicants

 We decided to invite the applicants to learn more about them. It was important to me, to see them work on their own as well as in a team. To achieve that, we had to establish an atmosphere that didn’t look too much like a test situation. We thought up some challenges: For example the job applicants were to interview experts on business processes and to present the results. We also choose small programming tasks on the ABAP Web Application Server. As no applicant knew ABAP no one was at an advantage. At the end of the day my assessment of the applicants had changed in parts. In any case – the orientation day had been a success. 

Open Feedback

  When an apprenticeship starts, it’s important to establish a culture of open feedback between the apprentice and the instructor. If there are problems, it should be possible to address them openly, but also positive things should be named to build on them.  It was also important to me to quickly integrate the apprentice into the team. My goal was to have him work on productive applications as soon as possible, and to give him his own little project.  

The Quality of Education at Vocational Schools

 I can’t say a lot about the quality of education at German vocational schools yet. I received good and bad feedback. The content in the field of IT seemed almost too simple to me. On the other hand I liked that the apprentices also were trained in rhetoric and business economics.  This year I’ll visit at least one open day at a vocational school and I’ll look deeper into what is taught. I think it’s sad that it’s hard to get in contact with teachers from vocational schools and to learn more about course plans and aims.  

Conclusion

 To me the tutoring of an apprentice is a worthwhile experience. When the apprenticeship has finished, and I have gained more insights, I’ll surely report on it again. In any case I’m happy to work at a company that also trains and thus realizes its responsibility towards the younger generation.

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