Post by Steven Bochenek
On-the-job learning between classes at school
On September 1, 2015, Doppelmayr announced that 22 new apprentices had begun an intensive training program at the company. We at the Gondola Project are but a few and currently have zero apprentices or interns, so it seemed a large number to us.
“22 apprentices may seem high for others but is not so impressive or unusual for us,” says Ekkehard Assmann, Doppelmayr’s Head of Marketing and Public Relations. “In fact, we have about 100 apprentices just here in our factory in Wolfurt, Austria at the moment. There are around another 40 working for us in Switzerland.”
Apprentices are very important to the future of the company and a big part of how they define themselves.
It turns out company founder Konrad Doppelmayr, the great-grandfather of the current company president, was himself an apprentice to a village blacksmith. This blacksmith had no successor for his business and, when it was time, was happy enough to pass it on to Konrad. “From there, we went on to become the world’s biggest ropeway manufacturer.” Apprenticing has been part of the company structure ever since.
“The Austrian System Fits Perfectly With Our Structure.”
Nearly all 22 of the young men and women are from around the region. Just 15 or 16 years old, they’re still living with their parents. Most of them spend 1 day at school and 4 at work per week, “though it depends on the profession they’re learning” says Assmann. “You have some apprenticeships where they work for a couple of months, then they go to school for one or 2 months, then come back to work.”
Of 22 apprentices, 22 are expected to stay.
The apprenticeships vary throughout all aspects of the business, including metal and steel-construction technologists to machine constructionists, electric and information technologists and technical illustrators; “even IT and office workers.” An apprentice’s schooling is both general education and specifically applicable to the program the student is doing.
Austria’s national system of apprenticeship — splitting school with work — is recognized and respected around the world. “To get really qualified workers, Austria’s system is just great for how we operate. Couldn’t be better.”
Which led to questions about those operations. How many apprentices have gone through the program in the past and stayed with it afterwards? “Pretty much all of them,” Assmann insists. All? “Some left for a couple of years, because they went on to more education, but they came back.”
How Does Any Company Keep Workers For Their Whole Careers Any More?
“It has very much to do what sort of company we are and what an interesting product we have.” Moreover, it’s no secret that students who do those apprenticeships have a very good chance for advancement in the company. “In the past, many of them have gone on to middle- and top-management.” He goes on to list some: Director of Quality Control, Head of Exports, the manager of their biggest factory in Wolfurt and many others.
Of course he notes that Doppelmayr is also very selective about the apprentices it takes on. “We give them many tests: math tests; technical and German tests. To make sure they’re the right fit for us and us for them.”
Thinking back to the national apprenticeship system, it’s plain to see that Doppelmayr has the time to be so selective and strict. In the fall every year, any Austrian students considering apprenticing will visit sites like Doppelmayr for one or two days, investigating the opportunity and company. Most years that’s around 700, Assmann estimates. Around half of them will apply for apprenticeship, which is around 350 to 400 who apply and begin the interviewing process. “And Doppelmayr takes around 20. So you can see why we don’t think it’s all that many.”
Learn more about their program here. Not surprisingly, the apprentices designed the page themselves.
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