Topic of the Month: June 2015

Eliminating shortages of skilled staff

Bachelor degree in mechanical engineering without A-levels via distance learning

Although companies are in desperate need of suitably qualified skilled staff, they often overlook the fact that potential candidates are already available – often in their own ranks. All they lack is appropriate training. As our example demonstrates, this training can be provided while employees continue in their jobs.

The summer holidays are beginning soon all over Europe and young people are leaving their schools to start an apprenticeship or a university course in the autumn. There are not enough of them apparently, however, because otherwise companies in Germany and elsewhere would not be in desperate need of suitably qualified skilled staff. It is, on the other hand, often overlooked that potential candidates for skilled jobs are already available – among companies’ own personnel. All they lack are the appropriate qualifications. They can be acquired while continuing to work, however – via distance learning courses, with or without A-levels.

Bring jobs and training under one roof? Distance learning can be the solution. © istockphoto

Is it possible to combine student life with a family and job?

It is not easy to have both a family and a job and to study as well. What are needed to make this possible are a great deal of personal motivation and employers who provide incentives and succeed in encouraging employees to tackle the challenge of distance learning, who have an eye for the professional potential of proven employees and are adept at motivating them to take the plunge: by making sure that the overall conditions make it feasible to combine career, studying and family.

When he applied to Studiengemeinschaft Darmstadt (SGD) to do the distance learning course “Geprüfter Industriemeister IHK, Fachrichtung Metall mit AEVO” in 2005, Simon Köhler’s aim was to obtain further training and to take the next step in his career. It was not to be his only distance learning course. Although he sometimes found the learning process tough – giving up was never an option for him. The 36-year-old from Esslingen, who describes himself as inquisitive and keen to learn, explains: “I complete whatever I start”. He found distance learning to be the best way for him to study. “I was technically minded even as a child and I already knew while still in school that I wanted to work in a technical field. The training courses I have completed alongside my job have therefore been a logical step in my career”, Köhler says. Three years after finishing his master craftsman course at SGD, he started a distance learning bachelor degree course in mechanical engineering (B.Eng) at Wilhelm Büchner Hochschule.

Family and job

Distance learning offers the possibility to take into account family aspects. © istockphoto

Shift work + distance learning = promotion

On leaving school after taking his GCSEs, Simon Köhler started an apprenticeship to become a construction mechanic in 1995. When the temporary contracts with his first employer ended, he switched fields: he was offered a job as a machinist and accepted it. “Even then, I was already keen to acquire new skills and improve myself”, Köhler says. In October 2005, he then decided to complete training to become a master craftsman in metalworking – while continuing to work at the same time. He completed a distance learning course in this area at SGD. In June 2008, Simon Köhler finished the course within the standard time. His explanation: “By opting for the master craftsman qualification, I deliberately chose a course that is recognised and in demand in the business community”. The crucial reason why Köhler selected a distance learning course while continuing to work at his job was the freedom he had to plan his learning times and to learn wherever he was: “At this time, I was working in shifts. I would not have been able to attend normal lessons at evening school.” The training paid off, as Köhler remembers: “Six months before the course ended, I was already promoted to a position as application technician.”

Commitment to training is evidence to employers of motivation, dedication and perseverance. Characteristics that go down well and lead to promotion opportunities, more demanding assignments and greater responsibility. © istockphoto

From master craftsman to mechanical engineer

Once you have developed a taste for something, you want more and more: Simon Köhler’s thirst for learning had not been quenched yet. In January 2011, the newly promoted application technician decided to join the academic world too and start a standard distance learning course – which was possible even though he did not have A-levels. He chose the bachelor of mechanical engineering degree course at Wilhelm Büchner Hochschule. Köhler completed his university course successfully three years later. In order to reach his goal of becoming an engineer, Köhler generally did his learning during the evening after work, at weekends or during the time he had available when he was away on business trips.

Strong practical relevance has always had high priority for Simon Köhler. He focussed on specific mechanical engineering issues not only during his course but also in his bachelor thesis. Simon Köhler explains: “In my graduation thesis, I investigated the conditions under which the smoothing cycle time on a 5-axis machining centre can be reduced with the help of circular segment milling tools. I decided to study this topic, because it involves a new technology in tool manufacturing and is directly connected to the work I do in my job”. As was the case with his master craftsman course, he was again promoted on graduation. He now works as an application technician for 5-axis and milling/turning machining centres at Gebrüder Heller Maschinenfabrik GmbH, one of the leading German manufacturers of machine tools that is based in Nürtingen.

Road sign to success

Success through vocational and continuous training – blueprint for success. © istockphoto

Professional training is a sign of motivation and perseverance

Blickt Simon Köhler auf seine bisherige Bildungskarriere per The conclusions Simon Köhler draws from the distance learning courses he has completed to date are as follows: “What have given me motivation again and again have been particularly difficult exams that I passed and other students with whom I have been able to swap ideas. It has also proved to be good at regular intervals to stop looking at the course papers and to focus on something else instead.” Simon Köhler is proof of the fact that professional training is worthwhile: “Today I am in a position to say that I have been able to benefit not just personally but also and above all professionally from the training courses.” Because: commitment to training is evidence to employers of motivation, dedication and perseverance. Characteristics that go down well and lead to promotion opportunities, more demanding assignments and greater responsibility. Simon Köhler has not reached the end of his training “career” by a long way yet. At the moment, he is considering whether or not to continue with a master degree course.

What can be said by way of conclusion is: Simon Köhler completed his training and his university course successfully – most certainly with the help of strong personal motivation. However, he has only managed to climb the career ladder by changing his employer. The question is whether this is the only alternative: employers invest huge amounts in the basic and advanced training of their staff; every qualified employee proves to be an investment with a large return for the company – if both parties co-operate bilaterally and with determination on improving the qualifications and careers of employees within the company.

Find your distance learning course too

Practically all universities offer distance learning courses, including such subjects as plastics engineering. Distance learning courses enable those who are unable to attend conventional on-campus courses at a university for various reasons to complete an initial or further university course. For many people who have jobs, it is the opportunity for them to improve their professional skills and obtain a university degree while continuing to work.

The programmes are carried out mainly via written and audiovisual media – trained mentors are available to answer questions and to help the students. This means that distance learning students are largely independent of time and place constraints, even if on-campus events are included in some programmes at regular intervals.

Guido Deußing

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