Preparing the next generation

Roche Basel invests a great deal in its apprentices and in their future. But who are the people behind this commitment? We went to find out at a thank-you event for vocational instructors.

What exactly goes into making a strong, innovative and competitive site? Constantly investing in its own future. Roche would not have lasted for 117 years if the company had not always worked to ensure that its in-house knowledge and scientific curiosity are passed on to future generations.

“Without a future, there is no future,” said Roche Basel Site Head Matthias M. Baltisberger speaking at a thank-you event for vocational instructors and mentors and used these words to stress the importance of internal vocational training. He said that the decision to build a new vocational training center in Kaiseraugst showed just how seriously Roche takes the training of future generations. “As long as we can continue motivating young people to want to help shape tomorrow,” said Baltisberger, “Roche will be around for another 117 years to come.”

Ueli Grossenbacher, Head of Vocational Training, also addressed the enormous effort that goes into in-house apprentice training: “The curriculums for our apprentices are revised every few years by the federal government. This means that, in addition to doing their own jobs, our vocational trainers also need to constantly attend to their own training to ensure that they stay up to speed on the latest developments. Their role entails more than just being teachers in the conventional sense. They prepare young people for a profession, they mold them, and they also stand by them during a very intensive phase of their lives.”

On an equal footing

Daniel Stauffer can only confirm that training apprentices in a lab or an office is about more than mere knowledge transfer.

One can also learn a lot from apprentices.
Daniel Stauffer

When you go into his office, the first thing you notice is a big yellow poster covered with photos and thank-you messages written in thick felt-tip pen. “Two apprentices from Mannheim gave me that after they came to Basel on an excursion. I gave them a few sightseeing tips,” recalls Stauffer jauntily. Today, Stauffer works in adult education, having himself joined Roche as an apprentice chemical lab technician in 1969. In 1975, he moved to the apprentices department, where he worked as a trainer until 1990. To this day, he still enjoys interacting with apprentices from all fields when they come to him on in-house courses and internships. “I like coaxing young people out of their shells, getting them to think in ways that are not necessarily on the curriculum. I start by asking them run-of-the-mill questions. I enjoy watching these young apprentices develop,” he says, alluding to more than just their progress at work. In their first year, apprentices have to get used to their new surroundings, whereas in the second year they gain confidence, and even find time to think about some of life’s big questions.

Shortly before the final exam, the trainers tend to play more of a supporting, background role. “It is important to meet apprentices on an equal footing. Then you can learn a lot from them too,” says Stauffer with a smile. “When I teach my courses, I can focus on getting the subject matter across. Unlike direct on-the-job trainers, I don’t have to worry whether every last one of the apprentices found it all very interesting and is now ready to pass an exam.”

Full-fledged employees

Andy Frehner is one such trainer. He himself completed his training as a chemical laboratory technician in 2007 and is still with Roche in Basel today. There are many reasons why he decided to take in and train apprentices in his lab. “While I was in training, I felt it was very important to have a good apprenticeship trainer that you get along well with. And since I was very lucky in this respect, I want to give something back now,” he explains.

A lab apprentice is an extra pair of hands in the team
Andy Frehner

Frehner points out that you shouldn’t underestimate the time and effort involved in training up new apprentices, especially in the first six months.

However, when things get too hectic, he can always find someone in the team to jump in if he has too much work himself. “And a lab apprentice is an extra pair of hands in the team. From the second year on, they are capable of taking on pretty much any assignment and help us just like full-fledged employees,” he adds. We asked Frehner’s “extra pair of hands” Johanna Romano what working as a lab apprentice is really like.

‘It’s important for me to be able to discuss questions’

Johanna Romano, chemical laboratory technician at Roche Basel: “My day in the lab starts at 7.30 a.m. I check in with my apprentice trainer or someone from the team and go through what needs to be done. I took my time selecting an apprenticeship as it had to be the right fit for me. The friendly way that Roche welcomed us and the well-organized work environment clinched it for me. If I’m to give my best at work, it’s important for me to be able to discuss questions and problems openly. The bond among apprentices and the team is strong. We eat together almost every day, do sport after school and spend time together in the evening.”

Tags: Science