Every professional was once a beginner. We all start off with simple jobs as a starting point, teaching us the basics of responsibility, pursuit of success and self-reliance. We find a sense of purpose, choose where we want to go, and find ways to do that. It is more of a question of which path to go and what circumstances we face in our lives. In Germany, we have two different career paths. We have textbook style, where people are expected to spend 6-10 years of their lives in college before getting a certificate to do a profession, such as doctor, teacher, lawyer, law enforcement officer and other white collar jobs. Then we have the Quereinsteiger, consisting of people who learned a trade then after a few years, decide to trade it in for another career that is either high in demand, appealing or both. That means, a physist or chemist could work at Bayer or BASF for five years before deciding to use his/her expertise to become a science teacher in school. Given the high demand of people in these fields, it is not a surprise, that schools would rather have an Albert Einstein in the classroom than someone who just got out of college, right? 😉
But looking at it more seriously, Germany’s job market is one of the strictest, even most inflexible markets in the industrialized world. People are pre-programmed during school, herding them to Realschule, Gymnasium or Hauptschule -all of them high schools, but all of them with different styles of training in the direction of technician, academic or industrial worker, respectively. Non-academics get apprenticeships and traineeships after graduation, which can last 2-3 years pending on the professions they pursue, while academics can expect to shave 6-10 years off of their lives in college. Both paths have no guarantees of successfully landing a job after one is finished with the upper-level education. For those wishing to do another profession, especially expatriates coming to Germany to start a new life, expect to take two years of training to get a proper education in an occupation, regardless of which field you wish to work in.
Unless you hit the jackpot with companies willing to hire “scrappers.” What exactly is a scrapper? This terminology recently popped up in a TED-talk held by Regina Hartley, Human Resources Manager at the delivery company UPS. When hearing the word scrapper, what exactly comes to mind? What could scrappers bring to the company that people with high qualifications cannot bring? What differs a scrapper from a silver spoon? And would you hire a scrapper or a silver spoon for a position in a company where a person can earn over 50,000 Euros a year? What are the requirements needed to hire that person from your perespective?
These were the questions I recently asked a group of students in an English business course, as we watched this clip and discussed this in class. The answers varied from saying yes, we would like to have scrappers to no we want silver spoons to even some depends (mostly on qualifications).
What about you? If you had a choice between a scrapper or a silver spoon, which person would you choose? Watch this Genre of the Week lecture by Ms. Hartley, make a list of the characteristics of both and the benefits each one brings, and talk about it with your students and colleagues. You’ll be amazed at the different answers you will receive. This is useful in any setting and for people of all ages and professions.
And by the way, just for the record, before starting my career as an English teacher and journalist, I too was a scrapper. I received neither degrees but studied a much different field instead of those of a teaching degree or a journalist. Before obtaining a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, I had worked as a groundskeeper at a golf course, sang for food and fame, translated and corrected countless documents, worked as a dishwasher and even did social work at an Indian reservation in New Mexico during my pursuit of the degrees. Still, my creative talents, combined with ambition, humor, story-telling skills and my knacking for the best photo (day or night), got me convinced that what I’m doing best fits.
Many colleagues I’ve met in the years living in Germany are also scrappers, having had multiple hands-on experiences in other fields in foreign countries, including China, Japan, Ireland, Czech Republic, Iraq and Afghanistan, just to name a few. Like me, they would not mind repeating it again if asked whether they would do things differently.
That should tell you something. Degrees are sometimes just degrees, your real experiences and performance as a person is what counts, especially in today’s world…
Something to think about….