IT Training Lab – “IT vocational training at ETH” – pimped up, Episode 2

This is the second part of the ITS retrospective. Not yet read the first part? Click here.

Peter Kessler was initially in charge of the freshly established IT Training Lab, but it was in urgent need of employees of its own who could always be on the spot. Thus, the search for suitable team members began – and it bore fruit. From February 2017, Marc Winkler assumed overall the responsibility for and management of the training centre. In mid-2019, Martin Schneider was recruited to support him[1].

Marc Winkler (left) and Martin Schneider (right)
Marc Winkler (left) and Martin Schneider (right)

Now the training lab had everything and was finally independent and completely ready for operation. But what has now changed compared to the previous situation? What makes the IT Training Lab so special? Since Fabio Consani hardly had anything to do with the project after the foundation, I contacted someone who could provide me with the latest information: My curiosity led me to Marc Winkler. On site, I was able to form my own impressions right away. In a building several metres away from the centre of the ETH Hönggerberg campus, set up in small offices, both employees as well as trainees can work in peace. The atmosphere is more reminiscent of a small flat than a workplace. Equipped with a kitchen, a large terrace with a view of the city and a very open plan common room, the IT Training Lab provides an perfect setting for budding IT specialists. Here the trainees were also finally able to communicate with each other effortlessly and as a result also discuss their problems with other trainees of their own age. The team has done its work well and under Marc’s leadership, the training lab is flourishing and improving from day to day. 

2016: The IT trainees settling into the new offices
2016: The IT trainees settling into the new offices

But how does it all work? 

According to Marc, the training centre is comparable with a shipyard. The shipyard builds ships and then transfers them to the client. What happens afterwards is no longer under its control. The training lab’s concept is similar: it provides the trainees with a training place before sending them out into the wider world. During their time in the training lab, they always have help they can call on.

Most of the trainees spend only a year in the IT Training Lab. After this, they are normally completely on their own or in pairs or assigned a mentor. This might sounds straightforward, but it is precisely here that the innovation of the new training centre is to be found: The still very young teenagers can spend a a year getting used to the daily routine of a working person without any stress, meaning they can get their work done with more self-confidence and independence in the following three years. This is an enormous relief both for the trainees as well as for their teachers and ETH owes this solely to the small team that went to such great efforts to this end.

But the IT Training Lab also makes an effort in other ways. In recent months, Marc Winkler has also been involved in the reorientation of the Swiss Vocational and Educational Training (VET) diploma. The aim here is for IT specialists to only get a short basic training. After this, they should be able to put together their own majors with the aid of modules, similar to a degree. In this way, each budding IT specialist can distinguish themselves and boost their own market value through more specific technical knowledge. 

In addition, the IT Training Lab also takes an active part in the “Informatiktage” and the Future Day (“Nationaler Zukunftstag”) at ETH and annually inspires dozens of children and adolescents in a playful way to embark on a technical career.

2018: The trainees programming a game with primary school pupils. Which of them will follow in the footsteps of our hardworking assistants?
2018: The trainees programming a game with primary school pupils. Which of them will follow in the footsteps of our hardworking assistants?

The Training Lab appears to be a complete success from the staff’s point of view. What about the trainees?

Michel Gröbli (budding system technician, ITS PPF) is due to complete his training in the summer of 2020 and is one of the first to start their training at the IT Training Lab. Unlike other trainees, he not only spent his first year there, but also his last 1.5 years with Marc Winkler as his vocational trainer. You could almost say he grew up together with the training lab. What has changed in the laboratory over time? Its “Structure” is Michel’s reply. Whereas he used to “sit out” some of his available time, he now has a very structured workday, with many tasks to complete. It is noticeable that both the infrastructure as well as the syllabus have undergone continuous development. His training was very balanced; practical, but also with enough theory to deepen his knowledge. At any rate, he definitely feels ready to fully enter the working world.

2016: The first class to be completely educated in the Training Lab. This year, they will complete their training. Congratulations!
2016: The first year to be completely educated in the Training Lab. This year, they will complete their training. Congratulations!

The IT Training Lab is a complete success and will continue to support the ETH for many more years in its mission: offering young, technologically interested people a sound foundation for their entry into the adult world. 

Text by Kaja Walter, PR & Communication of IT Services


History of IT Services and ETH Zürich

[1] Peter Kessler: “In the project team, we were convinced we had come up with a fantastic concept and now we had also found the best people for trainee support and education.”

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