Karin Ressel empowers students to realize their potential in vocational careers by reinventing the relationship between each other, their schools, and future employers. Through hands-on learning modules based on practical experiences and skills, students’ assess their interests and aptitudes, while prospective employers increase their recruitment and retention rates.
The New Idea
Karin has invented a set of hands-on learning modules that simulate real-life work experiences in order to support young people identify their strengths and to prepare them for the practical aspects of a future career. Berufsparcours® (which roughly translates as profession circuit) targets young people from grades 8 to 10 who, during one day, pass through individual learning stations where they can test different technical professions, from a mechanic to a policeman or a secretary, in a very practical manner. To create a long-term and effective intervention for youth, Karin works with schools to implement her modules and toolkits into curricula to provide outlets for youth to test their interests.
Karin has also brought her learning modules to companies. She works with employers (i.e. many of Germany’s largest industrial enterprises) to integrate them into local job fairs and recruitment processes, thereby allowing for direct, hands-on interaction between recruiters and applicants. Berufsparcours® is transforming the recruitment practices of companies, from a reactive application process to a process that involves proactive, personal outreach and the qualifications of broader target groups.
Each year Berufsparcours® conducts 110 Profession Tours in schools and 90 company fairs in eight German counties, reaching approximately 50,000 pupils yearly. The success of Berufsparcours® has led Karin to license her modules to student-run companies and schools directly, who then spread the product further.
In Germany, despite high levels of youth unemployment, many companies are unable to fill their training vacancies (i.e. particularly in apprenticeship programs) due to a lack of suited applicants. Firms requiring technical skills forecast huge problems for their industries in coming years due to shortages of skilled labor. In March 2010, more than 240,000 young people were registered as looking for employment, through companies had more than 200,000 vacancies. This trend has companies increasingly worrying about a shortage of skilled workers.
This shortage is especially problematic in the field of technical professions, with experts predicting a lack of more than 175,000 suited trainees in five years. They complain about badly trained applicants lacking practical knowledge and necessary personal skills. What is more, they incur high costs due to the handling of thousands of applications reaching them each year with little indication if the person has the necessary talent and skills for the job. Nevertheless, they stick to their recruiting strategy based on glossy brochures at conventional job fairs. Karin has calculated that 1,000 young people applying to 100 companies cost the companies around 2M EUR (US$ ) in initial screenings.
Young people, on the other hand, lack the practical education to prepare them for these placements, and they have little support in identifying what industries and positions would be suited to their talents and interests. For example, half of Germany’s graduates from Hauptschule (i.e. a secondary school geared toward students who will enter technical trades) fail to find an apprenticeship within one year of graduation. The result is unemployment and its many negative psychological effects and high social costs.
Schools typically do not have the means to solve this problem on their own. With too few resources and rigid, state mandated curricula, they are too focused on theory and not enough on practical experience. Schools rarely actively assist their students to discover their individual talents and translate these into the best-suited jobs.
Students, on the other hand, know little about the richness of more than 150 potential apprenticeships available in Germany, and most end up applying to the 15 to 20 most common with little knowledge about what they can expect from them. This narrow focus is especially true for girls in technical professions, since company recruitment, technical courses in school, family, and public opinion is still dominated by a male perspective. Left alone at this difficult transitional period between school and professional life, most applicants lack the endurance and motivation needed for successful applications. This contributes to a high youth unemployment rate, which stood at 10 percent among 19 to 25 year olds in 2009.
Karin knows that hands-on practical experience is the best way to excite and engage young people. It is also the only way for them to find out what their talents are and what they enjoy doing. She created Berufsparcours® in 1994 to provide young people with these experiences and is implementing them through her organization Technikzentrum Minden-Lübbecke e.V., with a staff of 12 full and part-time professionals and 18 volunteers.
At the core of Karin’s strategy is to offer young people simple practical exercises, each developed to synthesize a core aspect of a profession. The exercises require mental and physical manipulation which allows students to test out, discover, and understand what working in a particular technical profession may actually entail. Karin is implementing this hands-on experience at different levels: She offers professional tours to schools, where 300 pupils for one day can experience 20 professions in a practical manner (i.e. based upon the 440 modules she has created so far). Teachers are each responsible for one module, thus learning the methodology, but also realizing the talents and potential of their pupils. Schools pay 2,400 EUR (US$ ) per “school course” and as most do not have the funding to cover all costs, Karin and her organization assist them to apply for suitable funds. Each year, Karin offers around 110 school courses.
Companies can take part in “company tours” where approximately 50 local companies and 400 to 500 young people from surrounding schools participate. For a fee, Karin helps companies design the practical exercises, which are supervised by company recruiters. Young people interested in the profession can directly get in contact with the firms and get a better understanding of the skills required. The companies benefit from directly testing the talent and motivation of the potential applicant.
Additionally, Karin expands her concept through the development, production, and distribution of her modules. She also organizes competitions, in which student-run companies develop modules as well as distribution strategies, thus generating income and learning entrepreneurial and practical skills on the job. What is more, Technikzentrum has developed a licensing model, through which it is training other organizations on how to facilitate her courses and use her modules for both school and company settings. So far around 50 licenses have been sold.
An important part of the success of the Berufsparcours® lies in Karin’s attention to detail. It is also important that pupils get a thorough introduction before they start the course. They need to understand that their success in life partially depends on their ability to find a job which they actually like doing. Another important aspect is her ability to bring together all necessary stakeholders and implement Berufsparcours® among existing systems, working with and licensing her model to schools, educational institutions, companies, governmental agencies, and conventional job fairs. Third, Karin has a special focus on making technical professions interesting for girls, using simple techniques, i.e. providing tools and gloves suited for smaller female hands, and changing exercise goals from producing cars into producing picture frames or flowers.
Since founding Berufsparcours®, Karin has trained 500,000 young people, 10,000 teachers, and 2,700 companies in eight German counties. Approximately 200 schools use her system regularly as well as 45 institutions (i.e. the Ministry of Economy in Baden-Wurttemberg). Additionally, Karin has placed approximately 325 adults, who supported the organization and supervision of courses, in jobs. Although the impact of this has not yet been measured scientifically, anecdotal evidence shows that all involved stakeholders change their attitudes: girls begin to consider a career in technical professions, pupils report having found something they really like, and teachers see their pupils with more respect for their abilities. Additionally, companies realize how much money and energy they save through this method of recruiting—with much better results.
Karin’s vision is to train even more schools and companies to implement her hands-on learning modules in their yearly recruiting/job training routine and engage more young people in manufacturing and inventing modules. What is more, she is working on establishing profession centers, where kids can go to experience professions and discover their talents.
Karin has always been drawn to technical work, inventing her own alarm or sound system while still at school. As women were not encouraged to take on technical professions she studied administrative studies and worked as a career counselor at the Federal Defense Administration. After eight years, her status as a civil servant and with its lifetime security, when she realized she could not change the system while working within it.
Karin started to study educational science and additionally gave courses on career counseling for pupils at 27 different education centers. Her focus on students gradually expanded to adults, especially women. Karin invented courses to bring day-to-day technical know-how to women, teaching them how to work with tools, materials, and objects. Together with 25 other women she founded an association for women interested in technical professions and craftsmanship.
Karin started to cooperate closely with the equal opportunities officer of Bochum, developing several training programs for technically interested girls, counseling offers for women reentering the workforce, and women setting up their own businesses. After several other initiatives and jobs, from founding an environmental women’s village to inventing a new pedagogical focused waste separation program, Karin founded the association, SEFRA with 60 women in 1994, changing its name into Technikzentrum in 2000. Her early focus was to encourage girls and women to take on technical professions, then, step by step she expanded the target group to boys as well as to other professions. When Karin had to move out of their training center in 2001 because the city had to demolish the building, she invented the idea of mobile support—instead of having pupils come to her center Karin decided to reach out to them, creating Berufsparcours®.