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Tobias Fuchs, 1st dual student at Bilstein & Siekermann®, mechanical engineering with an apprenticeship as a punching and forming mechanic

My first 18 months at Bilstein & Siekermann GmbH + Co. KG as a dual student.

I was introduced to Bilstein & Siekermann® at a vocational fair in my grammar school which I followed up with a technical work placement in 2014. I really enjoyed the work placement and I also liked the company so I decided to apply for a dual study position in the field of mechanical engineering. I was selected from a number of applicants and am now the first dual student at Bilstein & Siekermann®. Before I started my vocational training, I was very interested in the details of the dual study programme and how the practical and theoretical knowledge I learned in vocational school, at college and in the company would be combined in my daily work as a punching and forming mechanic. I am now in my second semester at college at the University of Trier and I have learned a lot about it.

The start of my dual study programme

I started my dual course on 1 September 2015, with a presentation about the company followed by a tour of the facility. In the afternoon, I was assigned to my department (manufacturing press), where I spent the next 7.5 months. During the course of my (dual) training, I learned important things about the cold forming process, in which the non-heated steel is inserted as a wire into a cold forming press and is shaped in several production stages by using tools to form a finished part .

For a longer period, about 5 months, I worked in the toolmaking department to prepare for my final exam Part 1 (“Intermediate Exam”).  For the practical part of my intermediate exams for my punching and forming mechanic apprenticeship, I must complete a practical work task just like the tool mechanics. I will take self-prepared test components into the exam and will finish them during the exam (filing, drilling, sanding, milling, turning, scoring, graining) and then assemble them into a final functional part according to the drawing. To do this all in the allotted time, you need to have sufficient practice and routine, which is something that I learned in the toolmaking department.

As I spent the first year as an apprentice and only started my engineering studies at the FH Trier in the second year, in the first year I attended the vocational school in Gerolstein. We took our mechanics classes there two days a week. We were taught technical subjects, such as technical drawing, servicing technical systems, manufacturing parts with hand-held tools or manufacturing parts with machines, as well as in general educational subjects such as German, English and social studies.

My degree at the University of Trier

On 3 October 2016, I started the first semester of my degree course. After a welcome event, the new students were divided into groups for the mentoring programme. This programme, which is run by students in higher years, is intended to make it easier for first-year students to find their way around.
My work at the university consists of attending weekly lectures, tutorials and exercises.  Our performance is usually reviewed in the form of exams and exercises at the end of each semester. Passing these exams is very important, and definitely requires initiative, discipline and diligence.
 
Good time management is of great importance and, of course, all the more important to me as a dual student. I purchased a calendar (see pictures) to I could keep check of all the dates for exams and intermediate exams for my apprenticeship.
When you look at the calendar, it is very clear that when you're on a dual course with an integrated apprenticeship, you have to perform to a higher level than ‘normal’ students.
For example, after the winter semester, I worked in my apprenticeship company firm during lecture-free hours to prepare for the theoretical and Part 1 practical exam (intermediate exam). When revising for the written exam, I mainly worked through old intermediate exams from previous years that my instructor had given me.

I also had to be careful about organising my practical exams (of course my colleagues helped me); I needed to pack the tools I would need for the exam, and ensure that all the semi-finished parts were prepared. I also needed to visit the test facility before I took the exam and, finally of course, I had to take the two exams during the lecture period of the summer semester. I am very grateful that everything worked out and that I receive so much support for my apprenticeship from the company and my colleagues.

The advantages of a dual study course for me:

I think a big advantage of dual study course is the constant switch between theory and practice. In college you learn the theoretical knowledge that you need as an engineer. In contrast, in the company I am being trained to be a skilled worker and there I am learning about the world of work. I also have a greater insight into the processes of an industrial operation, which gives me a better understanding the challenges facing a company. There are also some very pleasant synergy effects of higher education and vocational training, because of course, both are closely related.

Another important point is that the dual course gives you two state-recognised qualifications within four years, where other people would otherwise need six years.
So, after three years of successful vocational training, I will become a qualified punching and forming mechanic as recognised by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce. And one year later, I will complete my bachelor's degree after three years of studying.

And of course, the financial aspect is also important. This way, I get a monthly salary, whether I am in college, studying or working in the company. In addition, the company has also paid all my tuition fees. Of course, this allows me to have a certain degree of financial independence, which a ‘normal’ student usually does not have. As the company has invested a lots of time and money in my training, the likelihood of being offered a full-time employment contract afterwards is usually high. This means that, even while at college, you have good prospects for your future career.

Tips for future applicants:

Anyone who wants to start a dual course should be personally prepared.
You should be aware that you will need to work harder because you will be completing six years of training in four years, and of course, mechanical engineering is a demanding course. Ideally, you should have good school grades and have chosen the relevant major subjects or the right kind of school.

If you are interested in engineering/mechanical engineering you should make sure that you have gained sufficient practical experience in industrial companies. For example, it is important for companies to select candidates that have completed an adequate amount of work placements. But of course, informal insights into industrial companies are always advantageous, which is why you should consider attending open days at companies or the ‘Young Talents Training Day’ that we organise. I got to know Bilstein & Siekermann® at a vocational training fair, which was quickly followed by a work placement, after which I applied for a dual study place. I think if you have the right qualities and are well prepared, you have a good chance of being accepted for a dual study place.

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