Options for apprenticeships and degree courses in an exciting professional field
Source: istock / iszusek
In a few weeks’ time, a new year is starting at vocational schools, while thousands of students are beginning the 2017 winter term too. Although the many young people who are embarking on their apprenticeships or degree courses are probably unaware of exactly what lies ahead of them, they do at least have one fewer thing to worry about than those who don’t know what they want to do after finishing school and decide instead to “do nothing” rather than focussing on what profession they want to enter. Even though there are numerous positions and degree courses in interesting and exciting fields that are waiting for enthusiastic young people to tackle them – including ones in the plastics and rubber industry. The central objective of our Topic of the Month for June/July 2017 is therefore to provide potential candidates with some ideas and guidance in their search for suitable apprenticeships and degree courses.
Parents want their daughter or son to know what profession she or he is planning to enter towards the end of their school education at the latest. It goes without saying that this decision should not be rushed. It is wiser to stay cool, calm and collected instead of taking a decision on the spur of the moment and diving into something with a completely uncertain outcome. What parents worry about so much is not fundamentally wrong, however. Anyone who is unwilling to leave his or her future to chance is well-advised to take matters into his or her own hands and to get moving. A good position in a sector of the employment market with a promising future depends on sound training at a reputable company and/or an appropriate degree course at a university of some kind – exceptions only serve to prove the rule.
Educational level determines the starting point
The first step, the first thought: what school qualifications does the son or daughter in question have? University entrance qualifications are required for a degree course. An apprenticeship in an officially recognised profession is possible with intermediate secondary school qualifications. Acceptance for degree courses is feasible without university entrance qualifications in certain circumstances too. With the exception of courses for which specific additional requirements have to be satisfied, the entire employment market is open – in theory, at least – to anyone who already has university entrance qualifications.
Clarify interests and preferences
The obstacles have not been overcome yet as a result, however: while some young people already know very precisely at the early age of ten that they want to become a doctor or the captain of a ship, most schoolchildren do not have a clear picture of how and where they want to earn their living even at the end of their school careers. So what needs to be done?
An honest review is essential, in order to identify potential and to pave the way: a fondness for a particular subject at school might provide initial guidance about a suitable profession. It is never wrong to be able to give an insight into your personal skills, preferences and talents when considering career options. Being aware of them helps when choosing a profession.
Internships provide additional information about different professions. If all goes well, interns also receive high-quality feedback about their performance from a superior and can compare what he hears with his own personal impressions and experiences.
If vocationally focussed internships, one’s choice of subjects at school, the opinions of third parties as well as a personal review do not provide guidance and a profession cannot be customised to meet your needs, public or private companies or agencies offer aptitude and profession selection tests to help people to choose a profession. In Germany, the Job Centres could be a good place to start.
Consider the employment market, identify needs
What is definitely important: taking a long-term perspective. Anyone who is well-informed and keeps an eye on developments around the world has a distinct advantage – because everything is changing. It is quite possible that tomorrow nothing is the way it was yesterday and is today. Increasing specification of work and the need for interdisciplinary skills, expertise and experience are impacting the working environment more emphatically than people want to believe and are creating completely new profession on a more or less frequent basis. An example: who would have thought 40 years ago that the natural reserves of rare earth elements, which are important in the production of electronic equipment (such as smartphones), are in danger of depletion in the foreseeable future and that landfill sites are becoming the eldorado of the industrialised world. In other words: the mining profession is not dying out. On the other hand: if we are talking here about professions with a promising future, then we have to face the facts. If not enough of some element can be mined any more, experts are needed who are in a position to develop and apply processes and technologies which guarantee that mankind continues to be supplied with essential raw materials via recycling.
People are needed
In all the trends – which are sometimes contradictory – there is still some continuity and one aspect is key in this context: people are needed to do the work or to make sure that it is done properly. Even though such concepts as “Industry 4.0” – and the goal of increasing digitisation of work processes associated with this – suggest that the opposite might be the case. People are needed who do what they do best in their jobs; who enjoy what they do; who see what needs to be done; who are willing to get involved, to intervene, to provide instruction and to assume responsibility. Full stop!
The functions that people are capable of fulfilling depend on their personality, their willingness to accept a challenge and, not least of all, to do their best. Personal preferences and skills can be a key to career success. Sound, in-depth training and, of course, appropriate experience round everything off.
Motivation as the secret ingredient
Someone who has a head for figures may be able to make a success of a business career. People who have mathematical and technical interests may perhaps be more capable of developing and manufacturing machines and processes. A love of chemistry, biology or physics could be an indication of a successful career in the chemical industry, material science, medicine or research. Anyone who considers it important or necessary to deal with people in his or her working environment may find nursing or other healthcare professions to be a promising place to look – or could consider the role of a personnel manager, who has vision and the right instruments as well as the ability to apply them appropriately in order to enable the employees of a company to do their job in the best possible way. Someone who finds it easy to explain complicated subjects to just about anybody may find it fulfilling to teach at a school, college or university. While someone who has programmed apps while still at school and finds it simple to operate in the digital world is perhaps most likely to enjoy a career in the widespread computer science field.
It is difficult to say definitely whether there is “the perfect solution”, “the career” for each and every person. In every case, there are probably several effective routes that lead to one of several solutions that are suitable for the individual person in question: someone who is enthusiastic about mechanical engineering but has sales skills as well could feel at home not only developing and manufacturing machinery and equipment but also selling them. Someone who is a talented chemist or pharmacologist while at the same time being able to carry out brilliant analytical thinking or come up with creative ideas at other levels may well end up focussing on marketing.
Finding one’s own path
Nothing against role models. We all need them, because they can gives us fundamental guidance. However, idealising another person can distort the view we have of ourselves. It is a challenge to be one’s own pathfinder: find your own path – be bold and leave such words as “wrong” and “right” to others. No two paths are the same, even though they can take you to the same place. Different paths can, on the other hand, simply lead to different places and results too.
Courage is needed, because no path is always straight and always crosses flat and easy country; the final destination cannot always be seen – sometimes only a brief glimpse is possible at best. Persistence and patience are needed on occasions. And self-confidence: anyone who is well-prepared, believes in his or her own ability to do things, is aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, is motivated and determined not to give up the first time something goes wrong, reacts positively and impartially to new developments and observes his or her general and specific environment closely and attentively will in the course of time also see the possibilities that every path has to offer him or her. The opportunities and possibilities are sometimes off to the left or right of the path too. Sometimes the situation makes it necessary to stop for a moment to rethink one’s own position, to go back three steps in order to overcome the obstacle that is in the way by taking a run at it. From time to time, it may also be necessary to adjust the course one is taking, because the destination has changed. A certain amount of flexibility in one’s thinking and action can help to facilitate personal progress.
Professions in the plastics industry and how to enter them
Let us take a look now at the openings there are for careers in the plastics and rubber industry. The plastics and rubber industry is booming – not least of all due to the trend towards lightweight structures in the automotive and aerospace industries, the demand for high-performance functional polymers in a wide range of different application areas and the increasing substitution of such classic materials as metal, wood and glass by plastics. There is quite simply nothing better than polymer materials where innovation is concerned. The material is as versatile and diverse as the areas in which the plastics and rubber industry operate. The development, manufacturing and production of polymers as well as their processing and recovery require many different skills and qualifications; what are needed are laboratory technicians, industrial mechanics, mechatronics specialists, plastics technicians, engineers (including mechanical engineers), plant electronics technicians, materials experts, chemists, computer scientists, software experts, designers, research and development scientists and people from plenty of other professions too.
The path that takes you to your destination
As a general rule, it is possible to enter the industry not only via an apprenticeship but also via a degree course. As has already been indicated above: there is not one specific path that takes you into the industry; there are always numerous alternatives. An apprenticeship to become a “process mechanic for plastics/rubber engineering, specialising in multilayer rubber components” makes the focus on the particular material unmistakably clear. In contrast to such professions as laboratory technician, chemical technician, material tester, mechanical engineer, chemist, administrative assistant, designer, IT specialist, programmer – although these professions can be found in the plastics and rubber industry even so.
Anyone who is looking for a customised profession that promises long-term enjoyment and success is well-advised to obtain accurate information. The German job centres (www.arbeitsagentur.de) can offer individual guidance – as regards both apprenticeships and degree courses. The good thing about this site: it provides assistance in several different languages: in German, English and French as well as in very simplified German and in sign language.
A brief guide about how to find your apprenticeship or degree course
If you choose the field “school, apprenticeships and degree courses” at www. arbeitsagentur.de, you can click your way to appropriate apprenticeships and degree courses, taking numerous different aspects into consideration. Site visitors are guided step by step to the most suitable apprenticeship or degree course. Menu navigation is simple and easy to follow.
It is not only possible to investigate different professions (the ones of interest to plastics are: metal, mechanical engineering; production, manufacturing; engineering, technological fields; natural sciences); the site shows how in-depth information can be obtained about a profession, how one reaches one’s decision, how an apprenticeship position is found and also how applications work at the very practical level. Important assistance at the start of a professional career. It is definitely worth taking a look at the site!
Kai – plastics training project
And last but not least: the plastics and rubber industry itself is intensively involved in recruitment. For this purpose, it has established a “plastics training project” of its own called “Kai”, in which the industry associations and organisations co-operate closely with each other. Other partners are the central association of the German plastics-processing industry (GKV), the German mechanical engineering association (VDMA), the association of German engineers (VDI), PlasticsEurope, the plastics processing institute (IKV) at RWTH Aachen University, North Rhine-Westphalia – the Plastics State, Messe Düsseldorf and Dr. Reinhold Hagen Foundation. All of them are committed to encouraging and supporting talented young people. And are appealing to such young people to take action. It is a good time to opt for an interesting and exciting profession in the plastics and rubber industry. Guido Deußing