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100 years of the future:
Training and vocational studies at OPTIMA

If you compare today’s Optima filling and packaging systems with the good old precision filling scales from the founder’s days, you won’t find too many similarities. Simultaneously, changes in vocational training have been far-reaching. This is an area where not only technological but also social progress is clearly demonstrated. 

In any case, learning years are not earning years has had its day as a training principle, and the term training no longer covers just the classic apprenticeship, but also the increasingly popular work and study program that is attracting a great deal of international attention, involving a university course of study with integrated practical assignments.

Exhausted, but happy – that’s how Christoph Kiemel, a third-year mechatronics apprentice at Optima, feels once he has his feet back on solid ground after four hours on board an Airbus. It wasn’t the flight that was turbulent, but rather the weekend that lay behind him. And partying was not on the agenda at all. 

The reason for the trip was, in fact, the “Smart Green Island Makeathon” in Las Palmas, the capital of Grand Canary in the Canary Islands. It wasn’t a marathon, it was a Makeathon, you see. As the name suggests, it involves innovative work under strenuous conditions: An idea had to be developed right up to the first prototype, within a specified period. It was a challenge tailor-made for nascent “optimists”.

Christoph was part of the 2017 Optima Makeathon team, together with six other trainees and academic apprentices, and in a very short amount of time, they designed a smart conveyor system for a packaging machine that attracted a lot of attention. “It was a real special experience,” he said enthusiastically. Both in terms of the intensity of working together as a team, and the feeling of being part of a future-oriented initiative involving a total of 160 participants from 14 countries. Not only precision, discipline and the understanding of highly complex processes are required and encouraged, but also intercultural teamwork and project management. What better place to unearth talent than under such positively demanding conditions?

Other times

Going to Grand Canary as part of an apprenticeship? Eugen B. gives a genial smile. That wasn’t an option back in 1964, when he began his training at Optima. At the time, there were many colorful VW Beetles parked in front of the new company building, and the Germans’ growing consumer spirit was slowly filling Optima’s order books. 

Fifteen apprentices started their careers in 1964 filled with ambition, and in 2014, they celebrated a big reunion on Optima’s 50th anniversary. The energetic gentlemen – still an all-male cohort – looked back on times gone by. They received a company tour and thoroughly admired the new machines. However, as Eugen B. readily admits, there was not much left that was even familiar to them. The progress had been too great, and today’s systems too complex. 

Apprenticeship positions at Optima were in great demand in the region in the 60’s, recalled the former trainee. Those candidates who had passed the interview still had to demonstrate their abilities in an aptitude test before they were finally accepted. The principle of learning years are not earning years was still in place, even if it was already a milder version.

Frosty winter – hot ears

Going back a few trainee generations – the conditions were much harsher as the audio recording of an alumni meeting of the Optima apprentice class of 1935 (!) reveals. They often talk about freezing winters, physically hard work and, every now and then, the slaps that at that time were still generally accepted as a training method. For example, when the daily mail collection route was used for a secret cigarette break or to exchange the weekend’s soccer results.

Back then, people generally worked around 55 hours a week, including Saturday morning. Of course, the same was true for apprentices. It was very different from today, however, important foundations of today’s success were laid in those early years. “Don’t you realize that Optima stands for the best?” the supervisor used to say when the quality wasn’t up to Optima standard, as one apprentice recalled. The Bühler apprentices learned a lesson for life, and if they were hardworking, they had a secure job afterwards!

Johann Kochendörfer begins his career at Optima in April 1923.

Everything is different now. Recruitment is becoming increasingly important.

September 26, 2019, just before 5 p.m. Annika Kröss and Philipp Niedrée are eagerly waiting for the doors to open. Together with many other fellow apprentices and their trainers, they will be conducting the “Trainee night”. They will be answering questions from interested school graduates, but will also be on the lookout for new talent. Everyone was well prepared and came up with quite a few ideas so the visitors could take important information and many positive impressions home. These may be the deciding factor when selecting a company for an apprenticeship. 

Activity stations invited visitors to participate and take a closer look: For example, a gyroscope manufactured live on a CNC machine. Tech-savvy participants were able to assemble a tricycle and take it home. An auger filler was used to bottle herbal salt and a 3-D printer demonstrated its capabilities. Finally, visitors could immerse themselves in virtual worlds with the help of mixed reality glasses, and marvel at an Optima Pharma turnkey system at close range.

At 5:00 p.m. sharp, the doors of the training center opened, and the first buses pulled up. Annika and Philipp quickly realized there would be no idle time this evening. Approximately 528 students and parents took advantage of the opportunity to get first-hand information, test their skills at various stations and, of course, explore the training center. Something Eugen B.’s generation could only have dreamt of, with an area of approximately 1,000 m2 and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, including all major machines and tools, as well as its own laboratory, hands-on training and instruction rooms. Today, approximately 120 trainees benefit from these opportunities at Optima.

Apprenticeships and study places

A man’s world? Not anymore!

Something else would astonish the men from 1964, and even more so those born in earlier years – the popularity of technical professions among today’s young women. Many of them starting vocational training programs for jobs like machinists or mechatronics technicians with passion, self-confidence and a lot of talent. For example, in the past five years, nine young women have completed technical training courses at Optima. 

Heike Brenner, who is responsible for training and career development at Optima, has set her mind of boosting this trend even further. The new job branding will certainly help, with short video clips showing the diversity of training at Optima today: 22 apprentices present their career, and leave no doubt that the vocational training at Optima is absolutely second to none. Whether it’s a classic vocational training, a combined work and study program, or a cooperative study program where training is combined with an appropriate degree program – Optima is the right place.

View career film clips

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