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Too many new university students and not enough apprentices - Germany is facing an “academization mania,” says philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin. The three founders of the start-up “visionYOU” believe this trend is not inevitable. They see themselves as social entrepreneurs and are aiming to solve various problems at the same time. They want to get young people excited about apprenticed occupations by offering tailored vocational counselling. Above all, they want their concept to be sustainable. Companies get the young professionals they urgently need. Young people get a vocational training that suits them and might turn out to be their calling. And ideally, as the number of university students decreases, so will the number of college drop-outs—those who realize that university was just not for them.
One step and then another - on the edge of a roof. You look four floors down onto the street and then upward again to the half-finished roof structure. Two powerful strokes with a hammer and the lath is fixed. Then a hoist is lifting bricks onto the roof.
Thanks to the VR glasses, the video is extremely vivid - and shows what it would be like to work as a roofer at dizzying heights. Those not made for this job will quickly realize it. Neither virtual reality nor career orientation could be more exciting. Virtual reality, gripping short films and even elements of robotics - the “visionYOU” founders spare no effort to inspire young people to pursue occupations threatened to be sidelined in an increasingly academic Germany.
While universities can barely handle the increasing numbers of new students, many apprenticeships remain vacant every year. The consequence: more academics but also more college drop-outs and more problems for the crafts and industrial fields to attract the next generation. All parties involved are equally to blame - companies, chambers, and associations because they provide not enough or even wrong information and schoolchildren because they do not inform themselves sufficiently and give in to the diffuse expectations of others and study only “to play it safe“. Teresa Kreis, Paul Lorenz, and Madeleine Wolf founded the start-up “visionYOU” to fix this. Their “magic formula” creates future young professionals through a combination of successful career orientation and a bringing-together of all stakeholders.
The path the three are taking sounds quite simple. “We want to reach young people where they are” says Wolf, “with an experience-focused, multimedia career orientation,” adds Lorenz. “It has to speak the language of the adolescents and simultaneously convey the content that is necessary to get a realistic, complete picture of a profession.”
The team has developed its own tool to this end: visionTour, which introduces students to different occupational fields in several steps - both multimedia-based and first-hand. Step one: “visionYOU” comes to a school and introduces students to five different occupational fields in 90 minutes. “We design and produce our own videos - short, catchy, and exciting," says Kreis. In this introductory phase, the founders want to gradually integrate more technical tidbits - 360-degree videos, VR glasses, and even elements of robotics. In addition, visionTour should always contain interactive, playful elements such as small riddles, circuits, and puzzles. The way the young people approach or solve them will show whether they have the skills and knowledge needed for the respective job. They take a closer look at one of these jobs in step two - during an excursion to a partner company.
They have a very special assignment because in step three they are supposed to give their classmates an individual insight into their experience. The medium is up to them: a selfie video, comic, rap song, play and even PowerPoint karaoke are all possible. “Ultimately, we want to give new impulses,” says Kreis. “So young people realize there are many more possibilities than they might think - and then inform themselves.” The tour is supposed to take place annually, from grades 7-10, so that the young people gradually get to know all occupational fields. Later, the three want to develop a program for grades 11-13. After all, there are also apprenticed occupations that require a secondary school diploma.
The idea comes at just the right time: Schools have recently been tasked with integrating professional orientation into all subjects and not only offering it, as it used to be the case, at the end of grade 10. According to the “visionYOU” founders, it was high time for this change. So far, career orientation has often been too short-sighted. “A job fair for ninth graders is nothing else but a job board that aims to quickly fill vacancies,” Kreis complains. As a consequence, about one third of all apprentices quit their training. “Because often, young people do not know what to expect, have the wrong expectations, and are then surprised by the requirements.” Yet it is actually in the interest of the companies to find not just any apprentices but people who will stick with it. This is why the three founders focus on the young people. “Our approach and our plea to companies is: Do not look at the market, but at the young people,” says Wolf. “And to the students, we say: Find out what you really like!” Examples of how to go about this exist - companies that care less about applicants’ grades than their willingness to learn. “Those applicants who show interest or ask clever questions sometimes show much better than a grade report could whether the profession suits them - and whether they fit into the profession.”
Teresa Kreis, Paul Lorenz, and Madeleine Wolf are confident that founding their own company is the right path for them. The three met at the University of Applied Sciences for Sustainable Development Eberswalde (HNEE). They had all previously completed a business management degree; Wolf and Lorenz had worked at Deutsche Bahn. “There, I realized that entrepreneurial decisions are often politically motivated and anything but sustainable,” Wolf says. “I had the feeling during my studies we hardly ever asked questions about the overall social responsibility of companies and the appropriate limits to profit seeking,” adds Kreis. The Master program Sustainable Business Management at HNEE was their first step: It is an approach that unites them and that has influenced the credo of “visionYOU” from the beginning: “We have common values and want to completely rethink certain concepts,” says Lorenz.
And they do not stop at thinking. After a discussion about inadequate career guidance, they wrote their joint master’s thesis about how the situation might be improved. From there it was only a small step to founding the company. Since June 2017, “visionYOU” has been supervised by Potsdam Transfer and received funding through an EXIST start-up grant of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the European Social Fund (ESF). The scientific mentor is Bernd Meier, Professor of Technology and Career Orientation, who helps give the concept a more scientific foundation. Thanks to their connection to the University of Potsdam, the team has been able to discuss and fine-tune their ideas and concepts with students who will become teachers of economy, work, and technology. During the pilot phase, the team is working with three local schools and several companies, among them a hotel, two wood-processing and roofing companies, a construction company, an automotive supplier, a kindergarten, and a waste management company. The three dedicated founders are also still working on their financial plan. After all, the costs for a contemporary career orientation should be split as fairly as possible between companies and educational institutions. But they are confident that they will be able to “sell their vision” to those motivated people who seriously want to achieve something positive and are not afraid to give it a try,” says Kreis.
If visionTour catches on as they hope, it will be “translated” into an online teaching platform. “Then, after completing a training course, teachers will be able to give the tour themselves," Wolf explains. The “visionYOU” founders want to also launch a third pillar - an online marketplace for digital education services. This marketplace will showcase their own product and many others because the three founders do not want to reinvent the “education wheel” but really get it rolling. “For many occupations, good videos, web platforms, and information already exist,” says Lorenz. “But they are not well presented. It's like opening a shop in a basement, putting up no billboard, and then wondering why no one is coming. We want to change that.” By finding, preparing, combining and presenting suitable offers, the “visionYOU” founders hope to develop the role in which they see themselves: as an interface and a mediator between companies and schools.
Teresa Kreis – the social conscience – studied business administration with an international focus at the University of Mannheim and Sustainable Business Management at the University of Applied Sciences for Sustainable Development Eberswalde (HNEE). At the same time, she also worked at the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW).
Paul Lorenz – the creative mind and head of marketing and communication – studied facility management in Berlin and then worked at Deutsche Bahn AG for seven years. In 2013, he founded a sustainable fashion label and from 2014 he studied Sustainable Business Management at the University of Applied Sciences for Sustainable Development Eberswalde (HNEE).
Madeleine Wolf – the organized strategist and in charge of numbers – completed a dual business program at Deutsche Bahn AG, specializing in area services, logistics, and management consulting. After three years as a junior consultant at DB Engineering & Consulting GmbH she studied Sustainable Business Management at the University of Applied Sciences for Sustainable Development Eberswalde (HNEE).
In order to support their start-ups, the University of Potsdam offers an accelerator program that perfectly prepares the teams for establishing a business. After initial consultations and an intensive 3-day workshop, the teams are able to get further training geared to their specific needs. The successful application of the “visionYOU” team for an EXIST start-up grant is testimony of the training’s high quality. For one year, “visionYOU” will get funding from the Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy for their innovative start-up project. For the duration of this grant, the team has set up camp at the Transfer & Innovation Point Golm (TIP-Golm).
“visionYOU” is a start-up in the pre-seed phase. It combines career orientation for young people with ensuring the next generation of young professionals in Berlin and Brandenburg. In November 2017, the start-up was awarded the “Neue Perspektiven” prize at the StartGreen Award 2017.
Potsdam Transfer/Team visionYOU
Text: Matthias Zimmermann
Translation: Susanne Voigt
Published online by: Marieke Bäumer
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