Herbert Preinsperger: “Apprenticeship is fit for the future”

Herbert Preinsperger is head of the Jugend am Werk apprenticeship program in Rotenturm (Austria) and an expert in the field of apprenticeship training. In this interview, he analyzes why an apprenticeship in technology is a future-oriented decision.

Herbert Preinsperger is head of the Jugend am Werk apprenticeship program in Rotenturm/Austria and an expert in the field of apprenticeship training.
With several decades of experience, he analyses the developments concerning apprenticeship in the following interview. The interview with Herbert Preinsperger was held by Celine Kirnbauer.

"Apprenticeship is fit for the future"

Jugend am Werk in Rotenturm operates a joint training center, where around 60 young people are currently being trained. The training center offers apprentices a choice between the apprenticeships “metal technology/mechanical engineering technology” and “metal technology/metal construction and sheet metal technology” – with the option of an “apprenticeship with Matura”. In addition to the daily training work, the team around Mr. Preinsperger is committed to both the entry into the first job market and the promotion of women in technology. For this purpose, a skilled worker intensive training course has been offered since 2018 especially for women from the age of 18 in the field of machining technology.

If we take a closer look at the reasons for the shortage of skilled workers, an analysis in relation to the declining number of apprentices seems inevitable. You have been monitoring developments around apprenticeships for decades. Which changes have you noticed?

Herbert Preinsperger: If you take a closer look at the numbers of graduates from Matura classes, you can see a sharp increase over the last few years. Having a higher school certificate has become more important. However, the response to this has been to offer the “apprenticeship with Matura” in order to be able to offer young people both. Nevertheless, the majority of young people are choosing a career in school. Of course, this has an effect on the shortage of skilled workers, because there is simply a lack of apprentices on the market. In addition, in Austria the possibility of a voluntary 10th school year** further worsens this imbalance.

Why do you think that increasingly less young people are choosing an apprenticeship?

Herbert Preinsperger: One reason is the lack of knowledge about what has changed in the last decades. Automation and digitization have changed many job profiles and as a result, apprenticeships have changed as well. Many activities that once had to be performed manually with great physical effort are now performed by machines. In other words, many production steps consist of feeding machines with the right data. These changes increase the attractiveness of a technical apprenticeship. Unfortunately, young people often do not know about this.

On the other hand, an apprenticeship is unfortunately seen in a very pejorative way by parts of society. This again has to do with the lack of knowledge and insight into professional practice. It’s really a pity, especially when you see what apprentices accomplish and how much expertise they build up over the years. A change in mindset would have to take place. From an economic point of view, skilled workers make an important contribution to our business location and should therefore be valued appropriately.

Parents are important advisors to young people regarding their future career paths. However, outdated concepts of apprenticeships are still embedded.

What factors might have led to this negative view of apprenticeship?

Herbert Preinsperger: Young people and parents who have no contact with the various professions often have an outdated idea of apprenticeship. People automatically relate an apprenticeship in the technical field to heavy, physical labor. This may have been true in the past, but automation and the use of high-tech machines have largely eliminated physically demanding work. This also is an opportunity for women in technology. It must be confessed that in the past, women actually had a physical-conditional disadvantage compared to men. But not today. Instead, it’s all about technical application skills – in this aspect, women are in no way inferior to men. The growing interest of girls and women is also evident in our company, as one third of our apprentices are female.

Why is an apprenticeship in technology a forward-looking decision?

Herbert Preinsperger: The shortage of skilled workers is becoming increasingly evident and the surplus of university graduates is growing. Digitalization and automation are also advancing more and more. This increases the need for skilled workers with technical knowledge. This indicates very good future perspectives.

The great advantage of the apprenticeship is that, on the one hand, you acquire the basic knowledge and skills. As a result, young people learn how to perform certain activities without the use of the newest technology. And on the other hand, they learn from the very beginning how to deal with the technological possibilities and also acquire important programming skills that are nowadays indispensable. Companies are desperately looking for people with precisely these skills. Of course, this also increases the potential earnings, which are not unimportant for young people.

What specific measures need to be taken to attract more young people to apprenticeships?

Herbert Preinsperger: Parents are a major factor as they have a great influence on their children’s decision. For this reason, the parents’ commitment to informing themselves about training opportunities together with their kids is particularly important. It is an extremely difficult task for young people, especially when they have to make a decision for their lives at the age of 13/14. Parents must also be aware of this and should support their children as much as possible in the decision-making. For this, however, it is necessary that they are informed about the full range of training opportunities.

As I mentioned before, it often fails due to the lack of knowledge of what an apprenticeship looks like these days and how much has changed in recent years. Trial days would be the perfect opportunity to see what an apprenticeship in a company is like. Here it would be nice if there were more trial offers for school pupils of primary schools. We welcome every school for this opportunity. You should not underestimate the motivational boost that such experiences and impressions can leave behind.

Thank you for the interview!

**Austrian Pupils who have completed their compulsory education at middle or high schools and who have not successfully completed the 9th school level, may complete a voluntary 10th grade at a polytechnical school.

Anja Herberth
Author: Anja Herberth

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