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Why the Watchmaker’s Trade is a Mine of GoldTalks with Trainees at the Lange Watchmaking School

The much-discussed demographic transformation in Europe is causing a shortage of up-and-coming staff in many spheres. Increasingly, it is driving young people intoservice-sector jobs. Yet it is precisely the manual trades that are a goldmine.

In Saxony, home of the watch brand A. Lange und Söhne, a virtue is made of necessity.Back in 1997, the company opened its own training school for watchmakers. Sincethen, it has trained over a hundred watchmakers, who now work in a wide range ofpositions in the manufacture. In addition to this training centre within the company, A. Lange & Söhne are also investing in multimedia communication with young peoplevia the Internet.

The Footbag Juggler

With infinite patience, Christopher Schillem sews different pieces of cloth together withneedle and thread. When the object is almost finished, he fills it with pellets through asmall opening. Just two or three more practised hand moves, and the “footbag” isready. To 21-year-old Lange trainee and footbag championship runner-up Christopher Schillem, the fashionable sport of footbag and the watchmaking have a lot in common. “A friend who was watching me sew a little cloth bag recommended that I go into watchmaking,” he recalls. The little fabric balls that he juggles with hands and feet, never letting one fall, are composed of one or more dozen small pieces of cloth. So to make them, a steady hand and great patience are essential. The young man, now inhis second year of training at Lange’s school of watchmaking, possesses both thesequalities.

After leaving school, he wanted a job that was out of the ordinary, and he considersthat he has found it with A. Lange & Söhne, “even if it’s often hard to discuss what the job involves with friends and relations.” They roll their eyes when he goes into technicaldetails. In fact, Christopher did just the same before his training. At the “Career Start” fair in Dresden, he met some trainees from the traditional manufacture in Saxony, and had his first opportunity of taking a practice watch movement in his hand at awatchmaker’s bench and manipulating the screws.

Firmly on Course with a Soapbox

His fellow-trainee Linda Feine, too, has always enjoyed working with her hands. While at school, she made second place in a soapbox race at the wheel of a metal soapbox that she had built herself. So she was keen to learn a trade that did not involve sittingat a desk all day. “My father is a real technology fan, and he took me to a training fair because he really wanted to see Lange’s information stand,” the 20-year old relates. Linda was fascinated, and sent in an application to the traditional firm. From her own experience, she advised her younger sister, who is hoping to be a doctor, to acquaint herself thoroughly in advance with the content of her dream profession. “Because people often have almost no idea what the job is actually about. ”Tanja Ziesche describes the career of the watchmaker as “a dream job for real”. The twenty-one-year-old found out plenty about her desired career in good time. She is in her third year of training, and has just passed her final examination. “The training at Lange completely surpassed my expectations,” she says. “Working with such unusualand fragile materials is an exciting challenge. And I like the way each of us trainees is individually stretched according to our strengths.” What she really intended to do after she finished school was to study art, but “I didn’t feel it was down-to-earth enough forme,” she recalls. She learnt about the watchmaker’s trade from a flyer published by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and put in an application to A. Lange & Söhne.

A Hint from the Maths Teacher

Work experience can help to gain insights – an opportunity that A. Lange & Söhne gives school students during the school holidays. Jakob Kupke, 18, was keen to takeup the offer. His maths teacher had given him the hint. “She came from Glashütte,”explains Jakob, who was already keen on handicrafts as a child. He applied for workexperience and training at the same time, and received an invitation to take theaptitude test. This quickly revealed that he had the right capabilities for a watchmakingcareer, so that two months later he was able to sign his agreement of traineeship.

“We use the local fairs to help young people get to know more about the watchmaker'scraft,” explains Katja König, head of training. A. Lange & Söhne have been trainingwatchmakers at their in-house vocational school since 1997. But trade fairs andadvertisements are no longer enough on their own to reach suitable applicants. “Manyyoung people these days get their information about training opportunities online,” saysKatja König. So early in June 2012, she invited the creators of the “azubot” Internetportal to the training school to make a film during the course. It will be shown on Web site from August 2012 – keyword: “Watchmaker”. Apart from watchmaking training, since 2003 A. Lange & Söhne have also beenoffering a three-and-half-year training course for toolmakers, which has already beensuccessfully completed by five young people. They have learnt to make tools anddevices for watchmaking in a variety of metals.

More than 100 of Katja König's former protégés now work in the various departmentsof the Lange manufacture. Jakob Kupke, Chistopher Schillem and Tobias Wünsche allhave the same objective: to sign an employment contract with A. Lange & Söhne. LikeLinda Feine and Tanja Ziesche, who starts working in the manufacture on 24 July2012.