30 years of technical training in Saxony
Technicians hoping to undergo training in plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems have not had to look far in Saxony in recent years. Since 1993, the Steinbeis Foundation’s Technical College in Glauchau, Saxony, has offered full- and part-time courses leading to qualification as a state-certified technician. After three successful decades of training and around 700 graduations, the last round of graduates received their certificates as state-certified technicians in 2022. TRANSFER magazine took a look back with principal Ingrid Reinhold.
Hello Ms. Reinhold. It’s been 30 years since the Technical College was founded. What was it like in those days, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I have very clear memories of that time. It was July 13, 1993 and I went to the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs in Saxony to receive state approval for a private technical college under the Steinbeis Foundation. Everything was uncharted territory after the fall of the Berlin Wall, not just in business terms but also in education, so I had to ask the ministry myself which approval criteria applied to the planned heating technology technician training. I got a succinct but unequivocal answer: “You’re the principal now, Frau Reinhold, you’ll manage.”
So I did. I managed to recruit 25 trainees to my first seminar group. In those days the training still took place in barracks at the old engineering school. The trainees still had to do special exams for people who hadn’t graduated from high school, in all school subjects. The fact that almost everyone in the group was admitted to the exams was a huge feat, and I only managed to do that by going through the state parliament petitions committee: As I soon found out, not only did the admission requirements depend on the principal, there were legal requirements that had to be met, of course. But a number of things could be made possible in the time around German reunification, and based on our initiative they revised the list of professions that were admissible to technical colleges.
The college moved forward quite quickly. What were the milestones in those early years?
In addition to offering full-time training, we also quickly moved into part-time courses. The technical college was also given the status of a state-recognized “alternative school,” so it was authorized to conduct exams. The training program was expanded to include new specialties, sanitary technology, and refrigeration technology, and the courses became more and more popular. It didn’t take long for the premises to become too small, so we moved to another part of Glauchau near the vocational academy. That was an important step for us, because it allowed us to use the labs at the vocational academy and lecturers from the academy were involved in the technical training program as honorary staff members. Going the other way, the vocational academy benefited from the preparatory courses organized and run by the technical college, which went toward the degree program.
In 1997 we also started a collaboration with the Institute for Learning Systems in Hamburg, or ILS. The technical college ran classroom-based courses in Glauchau as part of the ILS distance learning program to become a state-certified technician. It also supervised exams for people who hadn’t graduated from high school.
Aside from collaboration with the vocational academy, you also found it important to work with and exchange ideas with companies and people in business. How did that work for you?
Throughout the years, technician training at the college has also involved excursions lasting several days, visiting leading firms involved in plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning such as Viega, Geberit, Helios, Maico, Vaillant, Bitzer, and Buderus. Just as importantly, forging links to companies also made our heating, plumbing, and refrigeration graduates highly sought-after in the world of business.
The fact that our students also had a solid grasp of the theoretical know-how has been reflected for example in the Technician Award, which has been bestowed since 2009 for the best technical paper in Saxony: Our students have featured on the winners’ list three times over the years.
For decades, the training program kept moving forward, quite successfully, but then, five years ago, the demand for full-time training crumbled away. What do you think the reasons were for that?
There were also big peaks and troughs in the number of technicians undergoing training. In years when the economy was doing badly, we had big seminar groups of up to 27 students. That contrasted with the years when the economy was booming, when groups had as few as ten participants.
Then, five years ago, the number of people undergoing full-time training slumped so badly that we couldn’t form full groups anymore. I think there were three main reasons for this. First, the companies in this sector of industry were doing well; there was too much work for everyone. As a result, skilled workers didn’t need to be qualified to secure a job. Second, there were already too few young people interested in learning a manual trade, especially in the skilled crafts area. And third, the universities of applied sciences and universities of cooperative education entered the equation, and they now accept applicants without a high school diploma. If they’re given the choice between a degree from a university of applied sciences and just a technical college, students often choose the higher degree. Even though both qualifications – a bachelor’s degree, or a qualification as a state-certified technician – are now on Level 6 of the German and European Qualifications Framework, they’re not valued in the same way. Also, a bachelor’s degree often attracts a better salary and offers other opportunities to climb the career ladder.
That all contributed to technician training waning in popularity. The last part-time student started in 2018, although there were 19 participants, and they graduated in 2022.
You’ve trained around 700 state-certified technicians in air conditioning systems, plumbing, heating, and refrigeration technology in the past 30 years. What do you think training will be like for skilled workers in the future?
It remains to be seen if other forms of training can fill the gaps in the coming years. The sectors we’ve run training in until now are struggling with major skilled worker shortages. We were unsuccessful in transferring training to another technical school in Saxony, so those courses no longer exist at any technical college in our state. This means that the only option now open to people looking to gain further qualifications in those professions in the state of Saxony is to complete an apprenticeship as a master craftsman or a university degree.
But ignoring my concerns about the future, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the Steinbeis Foundation for decades of collaboration and the development opportunities offered by the Steinbeis Network. Even though Stuttgart is 450 kilometers or so from Glauchau, exchange always worked smoothly. I was always able to get my work done as the principal – quickly and without red tape – and I received the best possible support, on all fronts! Thank you so much for that.
You’ll continue to share your know-how in the future at the Steinbeis Transfer Institute for Energetic Building Systems, which is part of the Steinbeis+Akademie. Which topics do you find particularly important?
The Steinbeis Transfer Institute was founded in 2018 to work with the State Academy of Studies and offer preparatory courses to academy applicants. Prospective students without a high school diploma are prepared for entrance exams as part of a 14-day crash course. We also offer courses to high school graduates, for example, it they’re from other states of Germany, or different types of schools, and we run courses for applicants who graduated from high school some time ago. The focus of our courses lies in the technical fundamentals, with an emphasis on math. This is because lots of people who quit university early do so because they lack certain knowledge or the motivation to use math properly. Applicants who complete one of the corresponding preparatory courses significantly improve their chances of completing a degree.
In addition to preparatory courses, we also offer certification courses on renewable energy, alternative energy systems, and applied energy technologies. Our courses on swimming pool technology have been extremely well received. They’re sure to become more important again in the future, because there are a number of legislative changes on the horizon.
Ingrid Reinhold (interviewee)
Steinbeis Transfer Institute Energetic Building Systems (Glauchau)