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The bachelor's degree as seen by companies: jump start or pole position?

The bachelor’s degree was introduced in Germany to harmonise German degrees with foreign degrees. In addition, industry had been urgently calling for such a change for some time. German graduates are generally seen as being very competent, but they are often perceived as being too old and having limited practical training. The number of bachelor’s degree graduates in Germany is still low and companies do not yet have much experience of the new degrees. However, one thing has already become clear: A bachelor’s degree is not sufficient for all professional fields. Those hoping for a future in research must continue their university education beyond the initial six semesters.

“We haven’t had many applicants with a bachelor’s degree yet. Many of the universities with which we work in close cooperation have only recently introduced the bachelor programme,” said Beate Trost, head of Human Resources at the Nestlé Product Technology Centre (PTC) in Singen, explaining why the company has minimal experience with the new degree.

Specialist knowledge is required

In general, Beate Trost is very sceptical about the new system. She believes that six semesters are not long enough to achieve the training required by the PTC. She finds that the scientific knowledge gained from the bachelor’s course is incomplete, thus necessitating further in-house training for new recruits.

The PTC in Singen employs an international team of scientists and many graduates are from outside Germany. Students applying for a research job at the PTC must have a minimum of a master’s degree. The foreign master’s is more or less equivalent to the German ‘Diplom’ and to the master’s degree that is currently being introduced at German universities. Working for the PTC requires specialist knowledge, which can only be gained from a master’s degree course. “Here at the PTC, we put a great deal of emphasis on specialist knowledge,” explains Beate Trost.

In competition with laboratory technicians

The PTC in Singen prefers university graduates with a master’s degree. (Photo: Nestlé)
Despite this, Trost can see some advantages for companies in recruiting bachelor level graduates. They are not as expensive to employ as graduates with master’s degrees. Age is another important aspect. Younger graduates, for example French nationals, have excellent career opportunities in the company. Trost also likes the international comparability of the degrees but is evidently more interested in the content rather than in just the title. Nycomed in Constance only requires a limited number of bachelor graduates for its research activities. With their three-year training period the bachelor graduates find themselves in competition with biology lab technicians. However, the university graduates have a clear disadvantage in relation to the laboratory technicians who have gone through a 7-semester training period that is adapted to specific company requirements. In contrast to laboratory technicians, the bachelor’s degree graduates do not have the practical experience we require, said Michael Amtor who is in charge of the new recruits at Nycomed.
The pharmaceutical company does take on trainees, including for training periods of just a few weeks. However, eight weeks of practical training, a compulsory element of some study programmes, will only provide limited insights into the business of a pharmaceutical company. A six-month training period is a lot more effective and will enable the trainee to work properly. “Six months is a worthwhile period for both parties,” said Michael Amtor summarising his experience.

Careers in the company

A bachelor’s degree enables students to have an early start to their career in a company, says Dr. Ute Stölzle, CEO of Genzyme CEE GmbH in Constance. © Genzyme CEE GmbH Constance

In non-research business areas, the career prospects for bachelor’s degree graduates are a lot better, for example in the field of logistics where Nestlé recruits some graduates with bachelor’s degrees, or in sales and marketing as for example at Genzyme CEE GmbH in Constance. Constance-based Genzyme CEE GmbH is the Eastern European and Asian head office of the Genzyme group and employs several people with a bachelor’s degree, the majority of them from outside Germany. Genzyme also has a few trainees including a young Chinese student. Dr. Ute Stölzle finds the division of a study programme into a bachelor and master’s degree suitable if students have a clear objective. The bachelor’s degree gives graduates the possibility to gain some experience in industry. “Success does not necessarily come just from people having a doctorate, they also need creativity,” said Dr. Ute Stölzle.

For a company like Genzyme, the new degrees fit well into the company’s concept: the company has always concentrated on in-house education, i.e. training programmes that are tailored to the requirements of the company and its employees. This also includes logical thinking or sales training, explained the CEO. The bachelor’s degree enables people to have an early start to their career in the company.

A title is not enough

Dr. Ute Stölzle is not too concerned about the age of the bachelor’s degree graduates who are in general a few years younger than their master’s degree colleagues. “We do not only hire young people. The last people we hired were all over 40,” said Dr. Ute Stölzle emphasising that it is the CV, the experience and the applicant’s personality that count. “Of course, the applicant’s education and training is also important. But this is not just reflected in a degree and a title. For her, degrees and titles are not of prime importance. She attributes greater importance to emotional intelligence, a willingness to take on responsibility and teamworking skills. The ability to motivate colleagues and whether a person has managerial skills cannot be deduced from the degree, said Stölzle who would recruit a graduate with a bachelor’s degree who has practical training rather than a master’s graduate straight out of university if she had the choice. At Genzyme, bachelor’s degree graduates with excellent English are not paid less than the more qualified recruits with Diplom. She believes that excellent language skills and practical training are very important, because this gives graduates the ability to get on in professional life.

Further information:
Genzyme CEE GmbH
Bleicherstraße 10
78567 Konstanz
Tel.: +49 (0)7531 457-270
Fax: +49 (0)7531 457-2798
E-mail: info-cee@genzyme.com

Nycomed GmbH
BykGuldenstraße 2
78467 Konstanz
Press Office
Tel.: +49 (0)7531 84-3021
Fax: +49 (0)7531 84-3065
E-mail: pr@nycomed.com

PTC Singen
Lange Straße 21
78224 Singen
Beate Trost HR Manager
Tel.: +49 (0)7731 14-1277
Fax: +49 (0)7731 14-1403
E-mail: beate.trost@rdsi.nestle.com

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/the-bachelor-s-degree-as-seen-by-companies-jump-start-or-pole-position