Denis Röder loves what he does. Wearing a white lab coat and protective goggles, he gazes at a test tube to find out the results of the experiment he started three minutes ago. Denis, who is 20 years old, has been doing an apprenticeship as a chemical lab assistant at Merck since 2008. He knows that he has a good chance of being subsequently hired as a permanent employee. He thoroughly enjoys the practical work he does in the lab. His eyes are trained to evaluate steam distillation and extraction. Experiments are Denis Röder's vocation — but he also likes to take on assignments of other kinds.
Approximately 560,000 school students signed apprenticeship contracts in Germany in 2010. However, an average of 22 percent of them — in other words, more than 123,000 — will terminate their contracts because they don't like the apprenticeship conditions, the work is either too challenging or not challenging enough, or they simply feel they've chosen the wrong occupation. By contrast, Denis was in the right place at the right time — and, above all, he had figured out which occupation just might suit him.
He's enjoying his apprenticeship, and now he wants to help other students make the right decisions. He has been an "apprentice reporter" since July 2010. Together with his coworker Verena Metzler, who is doing an apprenticeship called "Bachelor of Arts Industry," he provides in-depth, authentic insights into the apprenticeships available at Merck. Over time, the two apprentice reporters will create short video reports that vividly present 20 occupations ranging from industrial management assistant to chef and pharmaceutical technician.
Many young people can only name five occupations
"We get between 3,500 and 4,000 applicants a year for the approximately 170 apprenticeships we offer," says Ulla-Britt Siebrecht, who is responsible for employer branding and Human Resources Marketing at Merck in Germany. Together with her team, she initiated this unusual project. "Many of the applicants are fairly clueless, and they don't know exactly what to expect from the apprenticeship they've chosen," she adds.
Moreover, the number of applicants is steadily declining, and often the letters of application are not of high quality. The purpose of the short video films, which have been available on the Internet since the end of 2010, is to draw students' attention to the apprenticeship opportunities at Merck and also to report on the daily work done by people in various occupations.
By reaching well-qualified applicants and also helping to give students some vocational orientation, the "apprenticeship reporter" project kills two birds with one stone. "This kind of project informs the students in a vivid and understandable way about the occupations they'll be entering," says Frank Elster, who has a doctorate in education and is the director of a youth education organization called Jugendbildung Hamburg. "Unfortunately," he adds, "the people teaching in schools today have little practical experience in the world of work, and they can't give the students authentic information about various occupations.
A project like this one can fill the gaps." He has found that many young people can name only four or five occupations. "They don't have enough fantasy to imagine what kinds of occupations exist and what they would have to do in a certain job," says Elster. He points out that the choice of a future occupation has to be made in school or together with job counselors, but all too often he meets students whose interests and abilities stand in contrast to the occupations they have chosen.