"I was like a sponge constantly absorbing new things"
From postdoc to R&D manager in four years: The Engineer4Future trainee program was just what Dr. Jochen Ohrem was looking for.
With our KHS trainee programs, we offer university graduates and postdocs the opportunity to acquire valuable knowledge and practical experience - and with clear perspectives of being able to specifically apply this knowledge and experience later. Our clearly defined goal is to transfer exciting tasks and responsibilities to them upon completion and to have them remain in the company. Just how well this concept works is demonstrated by the career of Dr. Jochen Ohrem, who today is in charge of Research and Development at KHS.
Dr. Ohrem, how did your decision to take part in the Engineer4Future trainee program for postdocs at KHS come about?
During my doctoral studies, I had a clear idea of what my professional career should be like. I wanted to combine the many subjects that were part of my studies in a company. I then saw the job advertisement for the Engineer4Future trainee program for postdocs at KHS and it immediately appealed to me: It offers a supported, multi-faceted path from university research into industrial practice. The direction in which one develops can by all means come about and even change again during the course of the program. As an engineering company for the beverage industry KHS appeared to me as being an employer that would suit me perfectly: here, bioengineering is as much in demand as plant and process engineering as well as my major in process analysis in technical chemistry. That's why I immediately submitted my application and was invited to interesting job interviews that heightened my good feelings. The prospect of creative freedom which KHS offer me as well as the entire corporate culture and the company's international presence quickly convinced me to accept the offer. I began the trainee program in 2014. It took a total of 21 months and even exceeded my expectations. I learned so much during this time - I was like a sponge constantly absorbing new information.
What kind of information? How was the program structured?
I regularly attended seminars on soft skill subjects and project management together with the other trainees, as well as technical block training courses. A special aspect were the team projects, which involved working on a special project topic in small groups company-wide for over a year and a half. In our team, we developed a research promotion strategy to focus on cooperation and promotion of important research projects and to generate the greatest possible practical benefit for KHS. We coordinated on this closely, which has also sustainably improved cooperation between the various functional departments. At the same time, we were able to put methods that we had learned into practice such as the Scrum project management method.
Added to this was the daily work routine: I passed through eight different stations and learned something new every day. This included processing engineering for fillers, visiting installation sites in Germany and abroad and included the training department. An absolute highlight of my time as a trainee was my three-month stay in Brazil where I became familiar with an entirely different mentality. For example, employees often spend their free time with colleagues such as barbecuing together on the factory premises in the evening after work. Such activities are very conducive to cooperation among employees. I still have contact with my Brazilian counterparts today, and if anyone in my area has a question about the site, I'll set up the contacts.
What main topics did you discover and focus on during the trainee program?
There are subject areas that I have repeatedly been involved in: from a methodological standpoint this is product development and, from a technical standpoint, process engineering, which can vary considerably for different machines and as well as for various locations. I was able to combine these two topics thanks to the trainee project on research promotion strategies. I've been intensively involved in determining how we can promote product development at KHS by having the state subsidize the research and acquiring support from well-known partners. As a result, we have gained solid cooperation partners and created a process with which new tenders can be monitored and responded to in defined processes. Thus, during the training period we initiated concrete research projects in which we had a plenty of creative freedom.
How did things progress for you?
KHS gave me the opportunity to be in charge of three of these research projects, and I was glad to have the chance. One year later, I also took over my own product development projects. And a year ago I was assigned an additional task as manager of Research and Development. The avenues and opportunities that have developed for me are very enriching and exciting.
What role does sustainability play in research and development and what is the significance of this subject area for you?
I personally consider this a very important subject with enormous potential. The particular challenge in the industry is to integrate sustainability into our products in such a way that our customers become interested. This is always the case when we find the intersection between sustainability and cost efficiency. This especially appeals to me. Energy conservation and lower CO2 consumption play a major role in our research projects. Among other things, we have collected measurement data and made it processable, for example, so that we can obtain reliable figures on energy consumption. Based on figures of this kind, we can develop realistic alternative scenarios and, for example, compare the savings potential with the acquisition costs of a sustainable machine. My vision for the future would be that these considerations be positive and compelling for all involved.