“To recruit top talent for a career at Opel going forward,
we also have to provide the best training opportunities out there.”
Stephan Menke, Head of Central Professional Training Services
It has been 11 years since Christian Linke, 29, decided to complete a cooperative engineering degree (CED), combining traditional occupational training in mechatronics engineering with a master’s degree in engineering. “This type of program was little known back then. I was the first in my class to choose this option and really had to put in the hours finding all of the information I needed,” recalls Linke, who now works as a controls manager in the Electrical Systems and Infotainment division at Opel’s International Technical Development Center. Two years ago Sophie Jung decided to pursue a degree in business computing as part of a two-track degree program. “There were already loads of informational seminars focusing on cooperative education at school. Add to that, there were job fairs where could learn more about combining vocational training with getting a college degree,” she explains. This option intrigued Sophie and many others as well. “About a third of my class decided to opt for the two-track degree program.” As the examples above clearly show, much has changed in the interim. Cooperative education has gained in prominence in just a few short years and is in ever greater demand. “This option is more and more popular with high school graduates,” adds Stephan Menke, Head of Central Professional Training Services at Opel in Rüsselsheim.
DEMAND KEEPS GROWING
Opel first trained CED students in Bochum in 1994, back then in cooperation with the University of Bochum. Now, little more than 20 years later, it is not only future mechatronics and electronics engineers that are combining vocation training with a college degree as part of a program in Rüsselsheim. Prospective computer scientists, business administration majors, and business computing specialists like Sophie Jung have been studying in class and on the job at the company. Opel will soon be offering mechanical engineering, this time in partnership with Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences in Friedberg.
“Having young college-educated employees get to know the company early on and develop an emotional bond with the brand naturally benefits Opel as well.”
Stephan Menke, Head of Central Professional Training Services
“HERE I LEARN EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW”
Setting up a program like this required a great deal of preparation on an organizational front. “This necessarily entails detailed, across-the-board coordination with the vocational college and university – and naturally with our contacts in the Opel divisions. The program calls for our students to take a role in in-house projects that mesh well with what they are studying.” Some people work so well in the project teams that, with time, they can work on their own without supervision. This is the case at IT Product Development, where Sophie Jung, 21, has been assigned. “Here I get to know everything there is to know about IT,” she reports. Jung has already collaborated in a project for vehicle registration, helped organize test series, and developed and programmed software. “In the near future I want to work with hardware, so I am switching to Server Hosting in Mainz-Kastel. Marketing and plant IT are two other areas I would also like to explore.”
YOUNG EMPLOYEES AND THE WORK THEY DO BENEFIT COMPANIES TOO
She works four days a week in Rüsselsheim. Thursday mornings she spends in vocational training and Thursday afternoons and Saturdays in class at the University of Applied Sciences Mainz. Now two years into her training, she will soon be taking her exam at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and is completing her fourth semester in her studies, with three more to go until she receives her bachelor’s degree.
“Having young college-educated employees get to know the company early on and develop an emotional bond with the brand naturally benefits Opel as well,” explains Stephan Menke. Statistics also prove that this is a great way to retain talent, witnessed by the fact that well over 90 percent of students who gain work experience with Opel as part of the two-track degree program find a job at the plant or in development after receiving their degree. This was also the case with Christian Linke.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE: A JOB OVERSEAS
He has fond memories, most notably of the internships that he was able to do after completing his vocational training as a mechatronics engineer. “I had the opportunity to gain professional experience at Product Development Quality and Program Management before I found my way to Electrical Systems.” He even had the chance to work at Vauxhall in England for several months as part of an internship. “This not only benefitted me professionally but also on a personal level – and not just because I has the chance to brush up on my English. I would recommend that sort of overseas placement to any student in two-track degree programs.” Christian Linke is now working towards earning a Master of Science in Business Administration on a part-time basis. And why? Because “besides the technical aspects, it is also increasingly important to have an overview of the business side of the work we do.”
WORKS AGREEMENT NOW BEING DRAFTED
Adding a master’s after completing her bachelor’s is also an option that Sophie Jung is giving serious thought to. Ideally, she would like to do this part-time, meaning she would continue to work at Opel while completing her degree, just like Christian Linke is currently doing. “This is only possible at the moment on a case-by-case basis. This means talking to your supervisor and making individual arrangements,” explains Stephan Menke, who heads up training services. “We are in the process of drafting a works agreement that would allow us to better accommodate employees studying part-time.” Menke firmly believes that demand for two-track degree programs will continue to grow, even if demographic trends mean fewer and fewer people will be graduating from high school in the future. “To recruit top talent for a career at Opel going forward, we also have to provide the best training opportunities out there.” Cooperative education plays a crucial role in this area as past experience has shown.
Text: Eric Scherer, photos: Asterion
Last updated: June 2015