“Perfect playground for an engineer!”
Matthias Thong is 28 years old and studied process technology in Karlsruhe. Since September 2015, he has been an engineering trainee at Boehringer Ingelheim in Ingelheim, Germany and tells us about what the selection process was like, what he is learning in his training, and explains why he would choose Boehringer Ingelheim any time.
Matthias, could you tell us about the trainee program you are doing at Boehringer Ingelheim?
It is a 2-year program in the engineering department called DISCOVER; more precisely, I’m working in chemical ingredient production. During my traineeship I go through various placements and different departments, such as production engineering that ensures smooth operation of maintenance and servicing of production systems for chemical intermediate and final stages. I also spent time in production support which focuses on analyzing, optimizing and troubleshooting processes, meaning the search for and correcting of errors of all kinds.
What drew your attention to Boehringer Ingelheim and what motivated you to apply here?
First and foremost, my brother recommended that I apply here. He had heard that some of his colleagues were working at Boehringer Ingelheim and that they liked it, and that the company offered very attractive benefits. Also, Boehringer Ingelheim has been certified as a top employer for several years now. I checked out the website and really liked how incredibly innovative Boehringer Ingelheim is and how much the company invests in research. And the sushi bar was unforgettable! These were the deciding factors that led me to apply at Boehringer Ingelheim! Having a degree in process engineering, I felt that it made sense to work in the pharmaceutical industry. It is such a diverse field, and drug manufacturing is a broad territory where process engineering applies. It is also full of challenges, which makes it a perfect playground for an engineer.
What was the selection process like for the trainee position at Boehringer Ingelheim?
I applied online via the job portal. Not long after, I got a call to tell me that I was shortlisted and there would be a phone interview. After the interview, I was invited to come to the assessment center in Ingelheim. But a day before the assessment center, a get-together was held for all potential trainees that gave all of us an opportunity to get to know each other, as well as the decision makers, HR staff and executives at Boehringer Ingelheim. Some “old” trainees were also there to provide us insights into the program. I liked that a lot because it greatly reduced the stress before the next day’s assessment center. Also, the time Boehringer Ingelheim invested in getting to know us better showed how much they value us. The atmosphere was casual and open.
Naturally, the assessment center on the following day was stressful. It included an interview with a bit of role playing, a group task with other trainees, and various small (individual) tasks. But I did not have the feeling that the assessment was designed to create an artificial stressful situation in order to test the applicants to the limit; I felt that is was really designed to get to know us as individuals. It was demanding, but the atmosphere there was again very cooperative and appreciative, and I did not feel uncomfortable.
Right after the assessment, those responsible retreated for discussion. Subsequently, they provided us with feedback and told everyone whether or not they had been accepted.
All in all, I liked the application and selection process very much.
Do you have any advice for applicants who are still facing the selection process?
My advice is: Do not be afraid of the assessment center!
Those responsible at Boehringer Ingelheim invest a lot of time and effort in getting to know the applicants and finding out how they act and operate. Of course, you have to prepare well and learn about the company, but the assessment also gives you the opportunity and space to show who you are and what you can do.
Could you give a rough outline of your trainee program at Boehringer Ingelheim?
I spent the first half of it in Ingelheim working in production engineering for chemical production. This unit plans and conducts servicing, maintenance, and modifications of production systems for chemical active ingredients. For the second half of my program, I was in production support. In contrast to production engineering, which is more on-site at the facilities, support is more desk-based. Support work mainly involves process analyses; that is, you look at enormous amounts of data, such as temperatures, starting material entries, or stirrer speeds, in order to better understand the production or reaction processes and thus to manage them more intelligently and with greater optimization.
The last part of the program is spent in the planning group. So you gain a pretty wide range of experience, from production engineering and planning, to process analysis. The trainee program offers a full variety and gives you plenty of latitude to explore and see what you like and what you do not like. Engineering trainees at Boehringer Ingelheim go through four or five placements or departments altogether, for varying periods of time. International assignments are an option that makes sense in some departments, but they are not required.
How do the supervisors at Boehringer Ingelheim manage training, supervision, and feedback?
Trainees have an ongoing dialog with their administrative supervisors and are free to provide their own feedback about what they like, which department they could imagine themselves working in, or which other areas they might want to work in during the program.
In addition, I have a technical supervisor in each department who was always on hand to offer help and advice – even during orientation – as well as a mentor who offers advice about long-term development to support career development.
At Boehringer Ingelheim, I feel very well looked after, the feedback culture is very open and you get a lot of support.
On-the-job training vs. off-the-job training: What is the ratio of theory to practice?
This program is a very practical one; trainees are directly involved in day-to-day business and treated as full members of the team, sometimes being given their own projects, for example. In addition, interdisciplinary and internal seminars provide training on soft skills like communication or conflict management.
What are your main duties in your everyday work? Could you tell us about your typical workday?
That depends, of course, on where your current placement is. Generally, I start my workday with reading my emails and looking after what needs to be done that day or week and then I make my to-do list.
In production engineering, each day began with the so-called “morning round,” a meeting for everyone who was working directly on and was responsible for the production facilities. Simply put, the meetings involved discussing production problems and the target and actual status of production, as well as determining measures to be taken and allocating organizational tasks for ordering and replacing defective parts.
Planning is concerned with clarifying the assignment of project responsibilities and then implementing them successfully. This means that needs, expectations, circumstances, and interfaces have to be clarified to achieve success. Here, team spirit is required to put everyone on the same level. And you have to be prepared to quickly grasp the facts as well as understand complex issues and check them for plausibility. Additionally, you have to bring certain organizational skills with you.
There is a whole range of tasks that vary from placement to placement and the learning curve is extremely steep.
What do you think of the work climate at Boehringer Ingelheim?
Right from the beginning, a great deal of trust was placed in me. I was entrusted with and took on many challenging tasks of which the success was quite critical. That is a great feeling and spurs you on to give your best. Therefore, I find the climate very cooperative, open, transparent, and trusting. Obviously, this goes hand in hand with high expectations and a certain amount of challenge, which I like. And I always got help every time I had a question.
What about the trainee salary at Boehringer Ingelheim?
The pay is good. It is tariff regulated and really very fair.
What has been the highlight of your experience as a trainee?
A perpetual highlight for me is the excellent work climate and the trust that is placed in me. Another highlight is that nearly every project I initiated and almost every change I suggested has been implemented. This certainly shows a lot of trust and is not self-evident.
What does the future hold for you at Boehringer Ingelheim after you have completed the trainee program?
Well, the second half of the program is usually a good time to explore where you could be placed in accordance with your skills and interests. Of course, I’m already thinking about this myself. One big advantage of the trainee program is that you can build a very large network for yourself, which opens up a lot of opportunities. In any case, I think that training at Boehringer Ingelheim gives you excellent chances on the job market.
Why Boehringer Ingelheim?
For one thing, it is certified as a top employer. And now that I’m here, I would say that this has proven true for me, and Boehringer Ingelheim is a great company. Not only that, but as a healthcare company Boehringer Ingelheim benefits our society by improving the lives of patients, and I am very impressed with the efforts and investments put forth to drive research, development, and innovation forward. One last thing: I have not often seen a company anchoring EMPATHY in its values and guiding principles, putting humanitarian action at the forefront of its activities. In my experience, the values that Boehringer Ingelheim has prescribed are actually practiced, which is why I would always choose Boehringer Ingelheim at any time.
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