Flashback. It is February 2020. We are still largely in what we will later call “normality”. In the Rhineland, people are feverishly awaiting the street carnival. Only from far away you hear a murmur, something of a virus. Occasionally people take shopping trolleys out of the shops, stacked full of toilet paper – and are smirked at wearily …

Preparations for the exams are underway

In the training workshop the preparations for FE1, as we call it, start. Final examination part 1, because the examination for mechatronic engineers is divided into two parts. 40 percent of the exam performance is already achieved after 1 ½ years, the remaining 60 percent after 3 ½ years of training. This year, six trainees have registered for the examination, a numerically strong apprenticeship year. Tools and examination materials will have to be stocked up accordingly, and each trainee will have a proper place to prepare for the exam.

The chamber takes its time again until it finally announces the parts needed for the exam. Time is running out. April is the big day. Check registrations, fill out orders, check deliveries, check three times whether everything needed is available. Here it is the instructors who work up a sweat long before the exam.

Diligence, sweat, and spreadsheets

Meanwhile the “boys” rewind their exam preparation. Together with the trainers, the exams of the past years are critically reviewed and turned upside down. Theoretically and practically. Over and over again. Everything revolves around the questions: What’s next for us? Could any of it be repeated? How can I best use the permitted aids, formula collections, table books, calculators?
Post-Its are glued in, missing data is added, everything is “turned inside out” to save the crucial minute on the big day, so that even the last task can still be completed.


Trainees and trainers at full speed

The trainers place particular emphasis on the boys getting “heated”. Everything must revolve around the exam. Again and again small rounds of questions are thrown in unexpectedly. The trainees must want the exam. They have to be able to answer the standard questions with all of their senses, even at 2 a.m. when they are woken up. This atmosphere is created purposefully, the boys have to be motivated for the exam.

Everything works! Under supervision, old examination setups are put into operation, after all with 400V. The exam is tested with 500V. Trainees and trainers under high tension, nothing must go wrong here now! In order to get to know the circuits better, the trainers let the trainees build in errors for each other. Each one wants to be better than the other, wants to find the error faster – great, it works. That’s exactly what I had in mind as an instructor! At least here…

Corona crisis – the end of the exam?

Meanwhile, on the outside world, a different picture is emerging. The murmur about the virus has not only become louder, it’s there. Very close to Cologne, our test site, the virus has struck hard. The first appointments are cancelled, empty shelves in the supermarkets, the wave picks up speed. A wave that we could never have imagined. Unbelievable. But my thoughts are only with the boys. Their exam. I mean, the amount of work we put into this. Time, effort, money. Mostly effort. The boys are in a good mood. They want to deliver! And they want it now! Their fingers are tingling. Please don’t cancel the exam now. They’ve never been better. They’re running at full steam, at 150 percent. But I can’t keep asking them to do that forever.
But the events turn over in a flash. Not only is the examination cancelled, but even our training workshop has to close temporarily for safety reasons. Everyone is to be sent to the home office indefinitely. Now we have to improvise, and quickly! Just don’t let the accumulated energy go to waste…

In the second part, my colleague Marco will tell you how we have set up a digital education in no time at all.


Thomas Külsen

Thomas Külsen


Thomas Külsen’s job is to pass on his experience. After an apprenticeship, a master craftsman’s examination, a degree in mechanical engineering and over 25 years of professional experience, he is happy to pass on his knowledge to his young colleagues, to be allowed to impart values to them. And thus also to do his part for the future of TÜV Rheinland. His career tip for you is: “Just do it! Get started! Do it now! Everything begins with a first small step, but you have to take it, and not just talk about it”.

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