Vocational training is a “huge topic” at Walter Solbach Metallbau GmbH (WSM). Here, in the industrial area on the outskirts of Waldbröl, high-quality mobile room systems for factories and logistics centres, billboards and display cases for advertising and information as well as modern bicycle parking systems are being developed. Like all companies, the complete-service manufacturer relies on competent and motivated employees; and they are increasingly rare, not only in view of demographic trends.
“With the growth we are experiencing we constantly need new good employees. We could buy them in the market expensively. However, our strategy is to develop our own employees,” explains Werner Schenk, who heads the family business which has been operating for over 50 years. “I like to compare this with German national soccer clubs, some of which only buy the best players in order to maybe put them on the bench for a long time, and those who care intensively about young talent. We know we cannot afford fully-developed players. Therefore, I tell the applicants that they will get a good education if they join WSM,” said Schenk.
The boss stands behind this personally, for example, by conducting interviews with the young applicants himself when possible. It is not school marks that stand in the foreground, but interests, inclinations and reliability. It has to be right for both sides. Which applicants are suitable for WSM? “You have to be curious and open-minded,” Schenk explains, “because we are not a classic mass-production manufacturer, but have a broad product portfolio with small and medium-sized series. One must be able to adapt and react quickly, also in view of the needs of our customers. Whoever wants to do the same thing over and over won´t fit us very well.” And: “At WSM one can assume responsibility quickly; right here in the department”.
“I ask each apprentice one question,” explains Schenk. “Where will you live in ten years? Will you come to terms with our world, with Waldbröl, or do you need the offers that only a larger city on your doorstep can offer? If someone says that it´s beautiful here, because everything is smaller or because there is still nature here, then they may fit in. Our applicants should come from the region and consider how they will be able roll up to work every morning in all weather conditions.”
Guaranteed employment takeover
At WSM, once one´s word has been given, it can be relied upon: the family business holds that in high esteem. This not only determines our dealings with customers, but also with employees: “When I sign a contract,” Schenk explains, “I have a responsibility and I feel obliged to honour my commitments and take my employees seriously. This includes our takeover guarantee,” he adds. “We do not train for the market, but for our own needs.”
The company has created professional structures to cover these in recent years. For example, since 2016 a training officer who is solely responsible for coordinating the apprentices and who also takes care of further training opportunities has been appointed. After all, up to twelve young people are usually trained at WSM every year. With a total workforce of 210 employees at the Waldbröl location, about ten percent are apprentices who are being taught in numerous state-recognised occupations (see box).
Education as a location advantage
“As a realist, I know that here in the region we are playing in a concert of attractive companies,” says WSM CEO Schenk. Nevertheless, he is confident: “The large supply of young people who want to learn something here and then work here is perhaps our biggest competitive advantage and we are taking advantage of that!” As a school location, Waldbröl has all sorts of school types such as high school, comprehensive school, junior high school, secondary school, special school, elementary school and a commercial business school. “Anyone who complains that he cannot find apprentices has only himself to blame,” notes Schenk.
Since the apprenticeship process today begins long before the actual apprenticeship, trial days and internships have long been self-evident at WSM. This can be company tours of entire school classes or two to three-week individual internships. “That’s where the search for good, suitable applicants begins for us,” explains Schenk. In order to promote the metal construction company to as many young people as possible, it cooperates with KURS (the cooperative network of regional companies and schools) and maintains partnerships with the local high school and the Oberberg vocational college.
“Concerning the public perception as a good training company we have certainly improved in recent years,” Schenk suspects. “That is noticeable in the resounding interest in our Trial Days which take place at least once a year.” They serve to get to know the company and job profiles and are organised by the trainees themselves. “This communication at eye level is very successful since some hurdles, such as shyness, are more easily overcome,” the company boss is glad to observe, summing up: “I think WSM is a good vocational training company!”
- Industrial clerks
- Technical system planners
- IT specialists (specialising in application development
- Metalworkers (specialising in design engineering)
- Professional drivers
- Warehouse clerks
The application ideally takes place about six months before work start. A cover letter, CV and copies of the last two school certificates and any further qualifications are required.
Online at: firstname.lastname@example.org, on the www.wsm.eu website or by post:
WSM – Walter Solbach Metallbau GmbH
D-51545 Waldbröl, Germany