Today the lecture hall, tomorrow a job


No job without job experience, no job experience without a job – we present the career starters’ dilemma. While those affected have sleepless nights, outsiders are full of well-meant pearls of wisdom: “Then look for a little job on the side,” parents say over Sunday lunch. Or “why don’t you do an internship first?”

However, it is all easier said than done, especially since the Bologna Process. The lecture timetable is getting more and more crammed full and the time for internships alongside university studies is severely limited. So it is no wonder that trainee programmes are very popular with graduates – the ista ones, too.

“Trainee programmes create a real win-win situation,” believes Sandra Nobbe, HR officer at ista Germany and responsible for trainee programmes at ista. “Over the course of 24 months, our trainees work in different areas, depending on their focus, gain a lot of experience in a very short time and can throw themselves fully into projects right from the very beginning thanks to their in-depth theoretical knowledge.” The perfect recipe for well trained and well networked young professionals, on the one hand, and the first steps in a career, on the other.

From trainee to team leader

Alexander Föllmer, 31, team leader Customer Center Hanover, trainee from 2012 to 2014

That’s what Alexander Föllmer thought as well when he opted for the new programme in Operations Management in 2012 as one of the first trainees at ista. “I wanted to learn as much as quickly as possible and above all experience the many sides of the energy industry at first hand. When the application process was totally uncomplicated and I was sitting around a table with one of the managing directors directly in the second interview, I was convinced that ista would offer me a very good start to my career,” the 31-year-old  recounts. During his traineeship, he became very familiar with both Head Office and the German branches and was even allowed to play an active part in the creation of the Drinking Water Analysis business.

“I wanted to learn as much as quickly as possible and above all experience the many sides of the energy industry at first hand.”

And it’s still far from boring for him. As a team leader in the Customer Center of the Hanover branch, Alexander Föllmer has found direct entry as a manager. As part of a career development programme, he was given various coaching sessions to prepare him for this new role. Successfully prepared, his 14-strong team thinks. They particularly like his open manner and his cool head which he always keeps in difficult situations.

Great emphasis is placed on support

Preparing the trainees for a permanent position at ista is very important to Sandra Nobbe when looking after them. At regular meetings, she closely discusses things with her young colleagues, helps them when they need her advice and plans their next assignments. “The aim of the trainee programmes is to give our young colleagues an exact insight into ista’s business and to give them assignments both at the operational branches and in the strategic departments of Head Office,” Sandra Nobbe explains.

Trust is the greatest motivator

Stephen Volkmar, 30, Product Manager in Corporate Marketing & Business Development, trainee from 2014 to 2016

The fact that sometimes things can end up going quite differently and individually is demonstrated by Stephen Volkmar’s career path so far. The trainee journey of the now 30-year-old graduate with a master’s in Business Administration actually began in Hamburg in 2014, but he did not leave the port city until after he had finished his traineeship. The managers in the Hamburg branch immediately recognised his talent for taking a holistic view of processes and put his name forward as the project manager for the then biggest customer contract ever won by ista in the company’s whole history. Stephen Volkmar took on the challenge and, as the project manager, not only developed the processes and interfaces with the major customer but also built up a whole team at the Hamburg branch who was to look after the customer’s needs. “Giving me this task was a sign of the great trust ista placed in me. It motivated me even more to do my work particularly well,” Stephen Volkmar says. So it was a good thing that he was promptly invited to make a presentation to the management in Essen to share his experience from the project which he was able to prove for the next major customer project after joining the Corporate Marketing & Business Development department at Essen Head Office as a product manager.

“The trainee assignment plan can be worked out down to the very last detail but sometimes things just turn out quite differently – and that’s good!”

“For us it is important to consider the careers of our trainees individually. When a fantastic opportunity comes up, we believe the graduates learn most if they are able to seize it. The trainee assignment plan can be worked out down to the very last detail but sometimes things just turn out quite differently – and that’s good!

Valuable experience under the trainee’s belt

Fabian Weishaupt, 27, Operations Management trainee since 2016

Fabian Weishaupt also went down a new path at the beginning of the year. As one of the first trainees of ista Germany, he did a six-month assignment in Switzerland – a small ista market which, however, urgently needed support in some projects. “I had only just arrived in Essen when I had to pack my bags again,” says the 27-year-old, remembering his first days at ista. “For me it was ideal. I like new cultural challenges and my assignment in Switzerland not only gave me the chance to get to know the operational business but also to gain one more experience abroad. And even if people don’t believe it, the Swiss mentality really is quite different from the German one. “With this experience under his belt, in his second assignment he is currently helping the Operations team at Head Office to implement the strategic initiative regarding the technology upgrade for the German stock of properties.

The trainee programme at ista has already been in existence since 2010. Since then, 15 graduates have found a career start at ista in the Sales, Operations and Finance departments and so solved the dilemma of “no experience without a job; no job without experience” for themselves. 73% are still working in the company today – a figure which speaks for itself and for the trainee programme. The “Absolventa” job platform also sees it that way and awarded ista a prize for career-promoting and fair trainee programmes.

“We see great potential in the trainee programme to home-grow future managers. The trainees have a high standing in our company. It is nice to see that it is appreciated and our work in that field has won an award,” says a delighted Sandra Nobbe.

Picture credits: ista, grasundsterne, Mike Henning