“We value open communication”

Tim Barth, 20, began training as a mechatronic technician in September 2009; he completed his training with a successful certification exam on 31 January 2013. Tim was hired as an electrician at the Leimen plant until July 2013, after which he has begun a work-study programme in electrical engineering.

Wolfgang Bender, 51, has been with the Leimen plant since January 1986. Originally, he served as head of the electrical training section. Since 2002, he has taken over complete responsibility for apprenticeship training at the plant.

Why did you choose HeidelbergCement?

Barth:
Having grown up in Leimen, I’ve known the plant since I was a child. When I heard about the mechatronic apprenticeship programme, it immediately piqued my interest. I was especially excited about the opportunity to train in my home town, coupled with the chance to gain the qualification I needed to study engineering.

Bender:
I’ve always been interested in electronics. It’s my hobby. Coming from Walldorf, I initially looked into the companies located in that area. Until I saw the ad for an open position with HeidelbergCement: Electrical Trainer at the plant in Leimen. That looked like a challenge and was my dream job!

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What made it your dream job?

Bender:
I have an avid interest in science and technology. That is always what I wanted to do for a living – and I have succeeded. Over the years, however, I’ve also realised how much I like working with young people. So, my career is extremely satisfying, especially because of the broad freedom I enjoy in shaping my contribution to the company.

Barth:
That’s a lot like me. I’m a technology fan, and I was able to use a lot of my existing knowledge during my apprenticeship. You face different challenges every day here – there is not a lot of routine. We analyse the "project of the day", and then make our own decisions about how the problem – whatever it is – can best be solved. In many cases, there is no standard solution. We have to improvise.

Bender:
You have to understand, our work here is built on the principle of give and take. People are given a large degree of freedom and responsibility, which they then have to live up to. It takes autonomous thinking, organisation, and the ability to adapt to changing needs.

Barth:
That is absolutely right. From day one, we were entrusted with important tasks and responsibilities. But, there was always someone on hand to ask for advice. I also like the fact that our company has such deep roots in the region. The Leimen plant has a long tradition – people here know and like us.

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Can you tell us about some of your personal career highlights here in Leimen?

Bender:
One of my highlights was when the Leimen plant was selected from among regional companies as an official testing centre for apprentices in 2002. That made me proud, because – naturally – it is a great honour. But, it also resulted in its share of extra work.

Barth:
There were a number of highlights during my apprenticeship. For the most part, they involved projects above and beyond my everyday duties. Like the time we were able to get an older, computer-guided milling machine up and running again, or when we built a DC electric motor. Things like that allowed us to broaden our horizon, try out new things, and tinker a bit. It was fun!

Bender:
But, I must add that the workload has not gotten less over the past several years. As jobs have been cut, the same volume of tasks must now be handled by fewer people. This calls for creative solutions that must meet my own standards – as well as those of the company. Nonetheless, everyone enjoys their job here. People who come here, stay here. The staff is very close, and we all work toward a common goal. The employees identify with the company.

Barth:
I also have the feeling that everyone came together even more during the period when costs were undergoing intensive review. The climate is good and everyone looks out for each other.

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What would you say makes for a good employer?

Bender:
In my opinion, the most important thing is having good leadership. A supervisor who lives up to his role. When work is enjoyable and you have a good relationship with your supervisor, the atmosphere benefits everyone. Here in Leimen, there is a real sense of "our company" – many families have worked here over generations.

Barth:
The Leimen plant is a microcosm, and the connection of the employees to the location is a delight to experience. I also think it’s great the way HeidelbergCement supports this camaraderie and sees to it that there is a "social side" to working for the company. Sports and preventative healthcare are a priority, and there are a number of leisure sites and facilities where staff members can spend their holidays without having to spend all their money.

Bender:
A good employer should also be able to respond to the individual needs of employees. HeidelbergCement is a prime example of this. For instance, for family reasons, I have transitioned to part-time since the start of the year. I don't think this would have been quite so easy at a different company.

Barth:
Unlike other companies I have heard about from my friends, we have someone who is solely responsible for the apprenticeship programmes – Mr. Bender. It’s not something he handles alongside a lot of other duties. Apprentices get real support, as well as a well-rounded education, so that they can go on to find good work, whether it is in the cement industry or elsewhere. That’s another reason that I feel so at home here.

Bender:
And that is exactly what it’s all about. You have to feel at home in order to do a good job. Our plant truly is a microcosm – a community. Many of us have known each other for years and built solid friendships. We value open communication. Maybe that’s what makes such a difference.

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What is your wish for HeidelbergCement during its celebration of 140 years in business?

Bender:
I wish the company continued stability and success. For the Leimen plant, I would wish that it remains in operation for as long as it was meant to.

Barth:
I wish HeidelbergCement and the Leimen plant a bright future, so that I can continue to proudly say: “This is where I learned my trade!”

(The interview was conducted in 2013.)