Round-table discussion on training refugees as train drivers

Stuttgart, 04.03.2019 – A professional perspective on integration—representatives from three rail transport companies, the Federal Employment Agency, and the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Transport met on Friday in Stuttgart to press ahead with refugee train driver training. “The project partners laid the foundations for this pilot project at the beginning of this year, so it was then just a question of coordinating the next steps. We wanted to establish common standards for the training of applicants, agree on recruiting policies, and cut red tape,” explained Stephanie Schulze, staff manager of the Albtal-Verkehrs-Gesellschaft (AVG) and head of the Karlsruhe/Mannheim region group. Alongside the AVG, the transport companies Go-Ahead and the MEV Eisenbahn-Verkehrsgesellschaft mbH were also present at the round table in the state capital.

The State Ministry of Transport launched the pilot project for the training of new train drivers at the beginning of the year in order to ease the railway industry’s staff shortage in the southwest. Over the next couple of years, the plan is to train people for this important job who are legally resident in Germany and have very good German skills. “We intend to acquire up to 45 new train drivers in this way for transport companies in Baden-Württemberg,” said Christian Röhm from the State Ministry of Transport. Railway experts see the project as both an important tool for gaining new skilled workers for transport companies and as a contribution towards integrating them into society. The project group for the Karlsruhe/Mannheim region will train five refugees from each company, adding up to a total of 15 people. The recruitment of these specialist workers will be carried out independently by each company, and they will be supported in this by the appropriate local employment agency.

“Refugees arrive with very different skills. While some of them have academic qualifications, others have no formal training whatsoever. We have to consider this when we are looking for suitable applicants if we want to bring them up to speed as train drivers, said Annette Gerz from the Federal Employment Agency (Baden-Württemberg regional office), explaining one of the greatest challenges of this project.

The job market has been almost wiped clean of train drivers due to the generally good economic climate. Recruiting and training new skilled workers is a huge challenge for transport companies. “We see a lot of potential in this group of people, and now is the time to develop it. We want to convert them to the exciting job of train driver and, at the same time, open up long-term prospects for their new life in Germany,” emphasised Lena Peringer from Go-Ahead. The railway company will be taking over a part of the SPNV services in the Stuttgart networks in June.

The legally required medical and psychological suitability tests must be passed by those who wish to participate in the pilot project. “It’s necessary that this high demand is placed on the applicant because later, as a train driver, they will be responsible for hundreds of passengers,” says AVG staff manager Schulze.

The applicants must also have a recognised school leaving certificate and adequate German skills. The minimum requirement for this is the B2 language certificate. This must be submitted by 30 August 2019, before the actual train driver training begins on 1 October. Both the theory and practical part of the training will take place at the training location in Karlsruhe and will be carried out by the MEV Eisenbahn-Verkehrsgesellschaft. “Our company boasts comprehensive experience and competence in this area and trains train drivers for numerous transport companies from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland,” explained Jeannette Heller from the MEV Eisenbahn-Verkehrsgesellschaft mbH.

Right from day one of the training, course participants will receive a monthly income, typical for the industry, of approximately 2,100 EUR before tax. For this pilot project, the Federal Employment Agency will make up the difference between the average trainee wage, which, depending on industry area and employer, is around 600 and 700 EUR. Participants will be offered a permanent position upon successful completion of the course.

In addition to their training as train drivers, refugees will also receive further language schooling in the afternoons. “In the railway and transport industry there are many specialist terms that are, of course, not taught at refugee language courses. It’s important that the participants also become familiar with this vocabulary so that they understand the comprehensive learning material,” explained Schulze. To this end, instead of lasting the usual nine months, the training course will be staggered over time, and, as a result, extended. The Ministry of Transport is financing an integration coach who will be on-hand to assist refugees with dealing with authorities or to act as their contact person in all life situations. It is also envisaged that the coach will teach them the job-specific “railway speak”.

Even though the focus of this pilot project is on training refugees, it goes without saying that everybody who is interested in becoming a train driver can be trained by the transport companies in Baden-Württemberg. “All of the state’s transport companies are currently so understaffed that this refugee project alone will not be enough to compensate it. So we would also be happy to receive applications from other people who are interested in becoming train drivers—career changers and entrants alike,” emphasised AVG staff manager Schulze, speaking for all transport companies in this project group.

The law on training opportunities [Qualifizierungschancengesetz] forms the basis of financing in the context of the project’s objectives. This law allows employees to be financially supported while they take part in further training.

More information on the “Training refugees as train drivers” project can be found here (in german).

Constructive exchange: Representatives from three railway companies, the Federal Employment Agency, and the State Ministry of Transport discussed how refugee train driver training is to proceed in Stuttgart (Photo: AVG)

 

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Erik Bethkenhagen
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