Industrial giant puts its faith in training - and work

Thu, Sep 27, 2012, 01:00

GERMANY:TODAY’S YOUNG Germans have something many of their European peers do not: the chance of a job.

Take Kulmbach in Bavaria’s northern Franconia region, German base of Ireland’s Glen Dimplex. Since taking over the local Siemens heater plant 22 years ago, the company’s turnover has grown by a factor of eight and employee numbers are up five times to over 900.

Today the German subsidiary is a market leader in heat pumps, high-tech cooling systems for scanners and intelligent storage heaters for the renewable energy century. Glen Dimplex Deutschland offers placements to 44 trainees and apprentices as part of Germany’s “dual training” system that combines formal learning with practical experience.

This system, chosen by two-thirds of German school-leavers each year, is a product of necessity. While many of its European neighbours have mass university education and service-based economies, Germany still makes things the world needs – and needs employees to make them. German politicians, unions and employers agree that the dual system is a crucial factor in its youth unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent – the lowest in Europe.

The system is not without its critics: schools here stream their students at a young age; late academic bloomers can find the door to university blocked long before they enter secondary school.

And Germany is not the promised land for all young people. New arrivals in Berlin complain of an internship conveyor belt; full-time positions are rare, low wages frequent. But the dole is an even less attractive prospect in Germany with a base payment of €374 a month.

Kulmbach’s Glen Dimplex trainees say they enjoy their training system’s flexibility. They don’t have to specialise too early and can re-enter the education system to third level later on. Like other traineeships, Glen Dimplex positions last up to 3½ years and pay trainees up to €1,000 a month.

“What I like about the system is that you have the chance to test out immediately in the workplace what you’ve learned,” said Simone Kunert (19), who is training to be an industrial clerk.

Felix Wagner came to Glen Dimplex after an internship and is training as a refrigeration technology engineer.

“I was looking for a profession with a future. Now, at the end of each day, I like being able to see what I’ve achieved,” he said.

The company knows it cannot beat China on price. Instead it pays over 900 qualified German staff top rates to produce high-end products, for which its customers are prepared to pay a premium. But finding enough qualified staff in Germany to keep the industrial motor running is a growing challenge.

With this in mind, Madrid signed a bilateral agreement with Berlin in July to adapt elements of its dual training system and open the door to co-operation. Other EU countries are likely to follow.

“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to get young people working,” said Dr Uwe Horlacher, managing director of Glen Dimplex Deutschland.

Glen Dimplex chief Sean O’Driscoll says working in Germany offers many advantages – a strong economy, a two-hour flight home – compared to such popular emigrant destinations as Canada and Australia.

“We need to get 3,000 people in Ireland on crash courses in German language, culture and history. In six months, they’d be ready to work in Germany.”

Germany has never been a classic destination for Irish emigrants, he concedes, but new challenges require fresh thinking.

As a yellowing sign on the Kulmbach factory walls puts it: “The human head is round to allow thoughts change direction.”