Education at the Werner-von-Siemens school - with practical relevance and close to the companies. (Images: Michael Agel)
Education at the Werner-von-Siemens school - with practical relevance and close to the companies. (Images: Michael Agel)

Werner-von-Siemens School Wetzlar

Learning by Doing

As a vocational center, the Werner-von-Siemens school in Wetzlar attaches great importance to the practical relevance of its training and further education.

Before the summer holidays is a very busy time in the building of the Werner-von-Siemens school. It’s exam time – for some, the end of their first year of training or the end of their entire course. Others are doing A levels before going on to university. More than 2,500 students with a wide variety of specializations currently attend the vocational center in the Naunheim-Niedergirmes area of Wetzlar, around 70 percent of them part time.

Different forms of schooling under one roof

“Exam time is always particularly hectic here as we have a tremendous amount of different forms of schooling and school-leaving qualifications,” explains headteacher Dieter Agel. There are full-time training courses that – like the Berufsfachschule (specialist vocational school), pre-vocational training year or basic vocational training year – enable students to obtain higher school-leaving qualifications while providing vocational guidance. At the Fachoberschule (technical secondary school), the Höhere Berufsfachschule (upper specialist vocational school) or vocational grammar school, students qualify for university or technical university entrance. And then there’s the Fachschule für Technik (technical college) which qualifies skilled workers and apprentices as “state-examined technicians.” And all this under one roof.

International exchange programs

Dieter Agel came to the Werner-von-Siemens school exactly thirty years ago as a senior teacher and was appointed headteacher in 1999. He immediately started opening the school and forging stronger links on both a regional and international level. International exchange programs with schools in France, Italy, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and the USA were set up and developed. In 2002, the Werner-von-Siemens school was chosen to join the dedicated group of “Hessian Europe Schools“. Although a large part of the international exchange happens “online”, students meet up in person, too. Wetzlar students spend 14 days in a host country before returning the hospitality for two weeks in Wetzlar. Concrete projects are planned on both sides in advance and realized by the students during their stay.

Regional networking with companies and associations

The opening of the school to the region is particularly important to Dieter Agel. “The exchange with companies that provide training and the relevant authorities such as the Chamber of Industry and Commerce or the Chamber of Trade is very close. We meet regularly to coordinate projects and clarify various interests and requirements. That’s the great advantage of the vocational schools – that they have such strong links with trade and industry. After all, we want to prepare the trainees as well as possible for the requirements of society and their future employers.”

Close cooperation between teachers and instructors

The curriculum of the technical college, for example, contains projects that allow students to study specific problems encountered in the companies where they are working. The teachers of the Werner-von-Siemens school liaise closely with the instructors in the companies, while the trainees take the opportunity to look in on fellow students training in another of the region’s highly specialized companies – for instance when precision opticians are learning about plane optics although the training company of a particular student is specialized in spherical optics.

Specialist Program Class in precision optics for Hessen

The precision optician training course traditionally has a special status with Wetzlar being a region of optics. “When I came to the school in 1981, we had a precision optics class just for employees of the Leitz company,” Dieter Agel remembers. Although the number of trainees per year has dropped since then, the training course has retained its high status. The Werner-von-Siemens school teaches the Specialist Program Class in precision optics for the state of Hessen and even for that of Rhineland-Palatinate. Due to the large catchment area, classes for the aspiring precision opticians are taught in blocks. The students then go to school in Wetzlar and live here, too. The Werner-von-Siemens school is the only technical college in Hessen to offer a further qualification as state-examined technician specializing in optics/electronics. Building on the skilled worker qualification, the technical college course takes two years to complete in full time, and four years in part time parallel to employment.

An optics lab that is the only one of its kind in Germany

The growing popularity of the optics/electronics course at the Werner-von-Siemens school among students and training companies is partly due to the good prospects of this promising branch of industry and partly to the Specialist Program Class’s excellent reputation that has spread beyond the borders of Central Hessen. “We are fantastically equipped, work on state-of-the-art machinery and have an optics lab that is the only one of its kind in Germany,” enthuses Frank Unruh, Head of Optics at the Werner-von-Siemens school. Initiated by the training initiative Optische Technologien Mittelhessen (OPTOMIT), the optics lab boasts a 200,000 euro aspheric polishing machine, for example, which was funded jointly by the Chamber of Trade and Industry, the Lahn Dill region and the school itself. The machine was provided by OptoTech Optikmaschinen GmbH in Wettenberg, while the control electronics were supplied by Siemens. “The optics lab is an incredible gain for the teachers and our trainees, as it enables the high-tech facets of the optical industry to be taught in a way that really makes them come alive,” says Unruh.

Partner of the OPTOMIT initiative

Even students from the universities of Central Hessen are welcome to use the optics lab at the Werner-von-Siemens school for their studies. And this is fully in the interests of the OPTOMIT initiative. Dedicated to a coordinated and transparent system of training and further education for the optical industry in Central Hessen, the partners plan to use such synergies to even greater effect in future. After all, demand-oriented education is not only the task of vocational schools, but also of universities and business associations, as Dieter Agel emphasizes. “Basically, we are all pursuing the same objective: As modern training and development establishments, we have to keep our finger on the technological pulse of the times, and we can do this much better by working together than by doing it alone.”

Festival of Science and Technology

The ability of the Werner-von-Siemens school as a vocational center to teach the latest technologies is of key importance for securing a long-term supply of highly-qualified workers in the region. In this context, Dieter Agel explains to students and their parents again and again that the many different forms of schooling and qualifications keep all career paths open to the young people even with secondary school leaving certificates. However, the headteacher also sees the need to fire young people with enthusiasm for technical careers. At the annual “Festival of Science and Technology” in the atrium of the school, for example, around 400 class 7 and 8 students are invited to a morning of experiencing scientific and technological phenomena through play. Actively supported by the region’s industries, the Lahn-Dill Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the Wiesbaden Chamber of Trade, the VDI Mittelhessen (Association of German Engineers in Central Hessen), the VhU Mittelhessen (Employer Association for Central Hessen) and also the universities, the event is extremely popular with schools.

Preparing for the next school year

The next “Festival of Science and Technology” is scheduled for November 2011. First, however, peace will return to the building of the Werner-von-Siemens school. The atrium will be deserted, the classroom doors locked. The students will either spend the summer in the companies they work for or on holiday. In the meantime, Frank Unruh will be preparing for the next school year. And headteacher Dieter Agel for his well-deserved retirement.


Additional Information:

Students at one of the work benches of the Werner-von-Siemens school.
Students at one of the work benches of the Werner-von-Siemens school.
Students benefit from the unique optics lab at school.
Students benefit from the unique optics lab at school.