Apprentices at the University

There are currently seven apprentices at the University of Mannheim. That’s right: The university offers not only academic but also vocational training. FORUM investigated where and what the apprentices learn.

Dozens of shelves of books, quiet conversations, muted typing on keyboards: The atmosphere in the library in Building A5 is quiet. We met Tanja Biedermann, aged 22, who is training to become a Specialist in Media and Information Services (FaMI) at the University Library (UB) and is in her second year of training. First, we talked about a cliché: “I like reading, yes, but when I read, it’s after work. Without a certain interest in literature, though, this apprenticeship really wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” she said. German and art were her favorite school subjects, so after graduating from high school, she looked into what she could do professionally with these interests. That’s when she discovered the FaMI apprenticeship: “At my interview here at the University Library, I went to see the basement stacks where the books that you have to order are stored. I was very impressed with the size! The interview and the areas of responsibility on site then convinced me to start my apprenticeship here.”

Mica Eliza Geßner, aged 24, is training to become an IT specialist in the field of systems integration at the university’s IT department (UNIT). “I came to IT in a roundabout way: At school I focused on social education, but when I did an internship, I found it wasn’t right for me. Through friends I got the idea to look for an apprenticeship in the IT sector,” she said. Added to that was her existing knowledge in the field: She took a Nintendo DS with her to job interviews, a development of the Game Boy on which she had installed a computer operating system herself. “While the device is not efficient anymore, it’s simply a matter of showing what modifications can be made,” Geßner said. What attracted her to the University of Mannheim was the size of the IT infrastructure and the interconnection with the systems of other universities in Baden-Württemberg. “When they talked about the number of servers in the interview, it was a very different scale than what I’m used to in IT.”

Vocational training has a long tradition at the University of Mannheim: for more than 35 years, people like Biedermann and Geßner have been learning various professions here. As a rule, the apprenticeships last three years; they can be shortened to two years if you have a degree from a university of applied sciences or a secondary school diploma (Abitur) as well as (very) good academic and professional performance during the apprenticeship. During this time, Biedermann and Geßner each have their own on-site contact persons who they can turn to at any time. They also regularly attend vocational school: Geßner crosses the Neckar River for this to study one week per month at the Werner-von-Siemens School in Neckarstadt. Biedermann lives in a residence hall for apprentices to attend her vocational school in Calw for up to four weeks at a time, five to six times a year. These two are not alone: apprentices start at UNIT every year, sometimes up to three at a time in various apprenticeships. At the University Library, two trainees usually start every two years. For all of them, the chances of being taken on are very good.

Biedermann enjoys the training, especially when it has to do with lending or interlibrary loans. “I like the contact with the visitors I advise or help. I can see directly how my work makes an impact,” she said. Her workday is structured, but the tasks are mixed almost every day: in the morning, she procures media, works through order lists, sorts out books, organizes new media, or processes scan orders from researchers. In the afternoons, she sits at the circulation desk to help library users face to face: “‘Where can I find this dictionary?’, ‘I only have the author’s first name, can you help me?’, or ‘The copier is not working properly and I need a copy.’” The requests are very different,” she said. Care, openness, and attentiveness are important in her job, she says, especially when she is helping students.

Geßner and her colleagues are currently responsible for the WiFi in the university buildings. Their duties include unblocking junction boxes in offices for LAN cables, updating network devices such as servers, and replacing routers. In their second year of training, the apprentices circulate between short-term placements: Geßner spends up to four weeks in different departments of UNIT and is given tasks or involved in projects. “As far as our training allows, we apprentices work very independently and sort of choose what to deal with next. So we’re flexible with the timing of moving to the next placement if we want to finish something first,” she said. For the apprenticeship, you definitely need your own initiative, and like pursuing your own interests, it is encouraged. Willingness to learn is essential for the IT industry, Geßner said: “You never stop learning in this job, the systems and equipment are constantly changing, so you have to keep up.”

Text: Luisa Gebhardt/May 2023

Find out more about the vocational and dual training opportunities at the University of Mannheim here (in German):