Promoting the next generation of professionals and ensuring a high-quality professional qualification – that´s a brief description of my motivation for joining the IHK exam board. I have been doing this for more than six years now. During this time I have held several roles and have repeatedly found that you have to invest time and effort and above all have the will to enable a trainee to obtain a good degree.
Finals are not only exciting for examinees
My work on the committee is diverse. This includes, among other things, correcting written finals and creating new examination papers. Things get interesting when I see my own written examination questions answered in front of me. Then you start asking yourself: Has the task been understood? Was it too difficult or too easy? Did the candidates answer the task as I had intended? Or did they even come to completely different conclusions? To judge this appropriately and fairly is not always easy, but extremely exciting!
Another part of the work – perhaps the most important – is to take the practical exams together with my committee colleagues. This is the part of the exam that is usually called the oral exam in commercial professions. For the candidates, it is the last part of the training and the last part of the final examination. We are the only thing standing between the apprentices and professional life.
The last obstacle between apprentice and working life
The examinees are given 20 minutes to choose and prepare one of two commercial cases. Afterwards the trainees are picked up from the preparation room – often also by me – and accompanied to the examination room. The examinee is understandably nervous and very tense. When I come in and pick them up, I often see an expression on their faces that wants to say: “Oh God, here we go”. I try to take the fear away from the young people a little and try to ease the situation with a little small talk. Unfortunately, this does not always work.
for the decision
Usually the tension builds up again just before we enter the exam room. And nobody can blame them for that, because inside there are already four people sitting, lined up in front like on a judge’s bench. And then I sit down with them, so that five people sit facing each other in a unified manner. On the other side: a chair and a small table where you could hold on to in case of emergency, or if you were to get dizzy. So take another deep breath and off you go.
“We are a nice committee”
“We are a nice committee” – that is what we like to say at the beginning when we introduce ourselves as committee members. With this we would like to take away the nervousness of our examinees. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But we really mean it: Because everyone sitting in the exam room, be it the “judges” or the insecure person in the “dock”, have the same goal: to help him or her to a successful degree.
We are not there to “judge” someone, but to make him or her happy, even if he or she may not yet know it.
With a look at our student’s first grades, we can estimate how intensively we need to conduct the examination in order for the candidate to achieve a degree or perhaps even earn the jump to a better grade.
But there is one thing we certainly do not want to do: deliberately fail exam candidates. Due to an amendment to the examination regulations a few years ago, a failed oral exam is considered a failed general exam. This means that those who fail must repeat the entire finals. Imagine that: You are an expert in writing, but you are not so good at oral presentations because you have a weakness in that area. If your written exam went well or very well, but you don’t get a word out in the oral exam, we would have to give you zero points. That would mean you failed. That can’t be conducive to achieving our goals and also causes a certain amount of tension on our side. Such a decision is not easy.
If this happens, it has considerable consequences for the examinees. They would have to “extend” at least half a year and repeat all exams. Such a thing can upset the candidates’ future if the next steps are already planned. For example, a permanent employment contract, a place at university or a stay abroad. In my entire time as an examiner, we have failed three candidates so far. Or rather: we had to fail someone. In these cases we were able to retrieve so little substantial knowledge that we could not have justified a state-certified vocational qualification. This is also a question of fairness towards all candidates who have prepared themselves – and most of them do.
Preparation is everything
With good preparation, the conversation will also go well. We notice very quickly whether someone has studied or not, which is often shown by a glance at the grades achieved so far in the written exams. Generally speaking, it is a lively interview. Most candidates shake off their nervousness when they have had the opportunity to tell something about themselves and how their apprenticeship went. Then they talk about the case they have chosen. If it goes well, a lot of knowledge comes to light. The examinees are “warmed up” and show what they can do.
Since the exam only takes half an hour, we have to interrupt from time to time and ask specific questions about a subject in order to be able to judge whether points can be awarded here or there. This is often a critical point during the conversation. The interruption stops the hard-won flow of speech and some people start to stumble, miss the point and feel insecure. But we are also happy to help, to give our examinees a helping hand and make sure that they pick up speed again.
The best moment in the exam
Then it is already over. Thirty minutes are up and we ask the examinee to wait outside. A short discussion among us committee members – and we agree on a grade. Failures are rare. We ask the person to come back in and tell him or her what is in most cases joyful news: Passed. The tortured facial expression from the beginning of the exam turns into joy and relief. We did it! And we are happy to have made someone else happy. Quite frankly, we didn’t make anyone happy, the examinee made himself /herself happy! The good performance has convinced us that our protégé can pursue this profession in the future.
TÜV for apprentices
I also like to think of our work on the examination board as the TÜV (obviously, right?), which conducts the last exams before the start of professional life. And if we can issue our seal of approval with a clear conscience, everyone involved has done a good job. I see us as service providers and the test candidates as customers. They prepare for certification and we conduct the exams for them. At the end of a long exam day, the thought remains of having helped young people to make a successful start to their professional lives.
Norman Hübner is press spokesperson for the topics digital Transformation and Cybersecurity at TÜV Rheinland. As a friend of space research and a fan of science fiction, he is elated by the possibilities of the digital change. In his free time, the father of two is a family man. In his daily work, prudence and mutual respect for the added value of his colleagues are important to him.
My career tip for you is: internalize the TÜV Rheinland values and find out which of them suit you best. Then live and work accordingly.
Giving feedback correctly in the job
Formulating salary expectations correctly