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What to know about the Apprenticeship Electronics Technician for Automation Technology

Sascha Toth commutes more than 100 kilometers every day to get from his home close to Dortmund to his job in Wuppertal. But Toth, head of maintenance at Coroflex, doesn’t see it as wasted time. For him, it’s worth it to work in such an important, future-oriented field – and he enjoys supporting his automation technology apprentices. In this interview he tells us what he enjoys about working as a trainer, gives us insight into the career, and describes what qualities applicants should have.

Mr. Toth, what exactly does an electronics technician for automation technology do?

Electronics technicians for automation technology develop control systems for complex, automated machines. They program control components, either to improve existing functions or add completely new ones or to optimize them. In general, you need to be highly qualified to work in this career: You should be good at math as well as physics. After all, some of our facilities comprise well over 200 or 300 modules. The apprenticeship focuses on writing software and troubleshooting within the program. Automation specialists thus generally spend most of their time at their computers; they do also spend some time working on the hardware, i.e. our machines, though not quite as much.

Sascha Toth’s team consists of 16 employees, including three apprentices.

That sounds like an interesting, varied job with a lot of responsibility. Is that true?

Yes, it is. The job has a lot of responsibility because, in the end, the entire production facilities and their output are dependent on what the automation specialist has programmed. And it’s also an interesting and varied job because it brings together theory and practice. Electrical engineering is rather abstract in general, and unlike mechanical components, electricity and data are not actually tangible. Those who choose this career should be tech savvy, able to work under stress and with concentration, and enjoy working in a team.

What are the various stages in the apprenticeship at Coroflex?

The apprentices spend their first year at the vocational training center in Remscheid. There they are trained in the basics of mechanics – filing, drilling, thread cutting, etc. – as well as fundamentals of pneumatics and electrical engineering. Then, in the second year of the apprenticeship, they join us in our company, bringing with their newly acquired knowledge. This means that they work together with our experts directly on the machines; they get to experience what the job entails up close and personal, and also learn all about the facilities. This is very important, so that they understand what exactly they are programming for. In their 3.5-year apprenticeship, our apprentices get a good 2.5 years of practical job experience. That is an excellent starting point to be hired upon completion, because they already know all of the facilities down to the last detail. The apprenticeship time is very practical and our apprentices never spend their time doing hypothetical projects in a training workshop.

Trainees are assigned concrete tasks, for which they write or change software and work on the hardware. They are doing exactly what they will be doing later in their day-to-day work.

We stay in close, regular contact with the schools because it’s essential that our apprentices have a solid theoretical knowledge foundation. Here in the company, we bring together theory and practice. We challenge and support our apprentices on an individual basis, so that they can each grow and develop to their greatest potential.

Sascha Toth | Head of Maintenance and Trainer at Coroflex

The three most important tips for the apprenticeship: These are the qualities and skills you should have in order to make it onto the shortlist.

  • We are seeking motivated secondary-school students who can think abstractly and enjoy doing so. At the same time, they should also be ready to work with their hands. Applicants should enjoy math and physics and, ideally, should have had a bit of programming experience already. Having the higher education entrance qualification is also a plus. An interest in technology, computers, and new media is helpful as well.

  • Programming facilities is a challenging task that can sometimes takes months – and often comes to a lot of dead ends. That’s why it’s important not to give up and to be doggedly persistent. In addition, digitalization is taking place at a break-neck pace and you have to be willing to actively keep up with these developments in order to always be up to date.

  • English is the language the programming world speaks, and it is also the lingua franca of an international family company like Coroflex. That’s why it’s important that our applicants can speak English well.

Sascha Toth recommends that potential applicants learn as much as they can about the apprenticeship before actually applying, for example through the German Federal Employment Agency or a trial internship.

What makes the apprenticeship at Coroflex special?

In general, automation experts are highly sought after. What makes us here in Wuppertal stand out is that we have very modern production facilities, we continually optimize our machines and are always ready to adapt to the latest in digitization. The control systems are becoming more and more complex. We have comprehensive machinery in order to manufacture cables and wires in house, and we also have a few older facilities in use. This gives the apprentices a good comparison of the dynamic development from mechanical up to fully-automated production. Upon completing the program, our automation experts have a sound knowledge base, are extremely versatile, and can work in a wide variety of industries. But of course we always train with the intent to hire our apprentices. And because out apprentices get to know all of the production areas during their apprenticeship, they can decide in advance which areas they are most interest in.

I’m always available for my apprentices and I aim to motivate them to continue expanding their knowledge base.

Sascha Toth | Head of Maintenance and Trainer at Coroflex

And, lastly, a personal question: Why do you choose to work as an instructor at Coroplast Tape?

I’ve done this job for almost 30 years and a lot has changed in that time. I really love sharing my experience with younger colleagues, and I have the feeling that it helps them. I really enjoy giving motivated young people sound training and, ideally, keeping them in the company after they are finished. But even if they choose another path when the apprenticeship is complete, I want to give my apprentices the best training for their future careers, wherever that may be. And besides, I myself learn a lot from working with the apprentices. I’m always learning something new. After all: the apprenticeship that I offer nowadays didn’t even exist back when I myself was being trained.

Sascha Toth, 45 years old, has been with Coroflex for two years and appreciates the freedom the company has given him to head the maintenance department.

Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Toth!

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