Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Employers and learning

When looking for my first job, I had an interview for a trainee program. At some point we discussed my plans for the future. I mentioned that I considered doing an MBA, say, five years from then. I had expected this to strengthen my cards by indicating that I knew the importance of continual learning and was willing to make the effort—a true high potential asset for the company. Instead, the interviewers immediately terminated the interview! They felt that they could not wager the training cost on someone who might leave in a mere five years.

Although I can understand the wish to hang on to both the best employees and those employees where investments have taken place, I find this reasoning very odd. Consider that:

  1. In my (later) experience from the IT business, five years is a long time to spend in one place. I suspect that a minority of the people actually hired stayed longer.

  2. MBA programs are often part-time affairs, allowing the student to remain working full- or part-time at his current employer—after which he would likely return to work as usual, but more competent and better qualified.

  3. I had a clear “might” in my statement, and considering the time span relative my age, this was obviously (at least to me) a very uncertain event. (Knowing what actually did happen: roughly six years later I went for a Master in Computer Science.)

  4. The decision to stay with the company in question would not have been contingent on whether I started an MBA program, but on whether I was sufficiently satisfied. If I were not, I would have left anyway; if I were, I would have stayed (possibly with a break due to my studies).

  5. It is certainly better to make a wager on the “best and brightest” than to have a sure bet with the mediocre or down-right poor.

TODO: Find and add the article with the analogy of cogs and mechanics.
More importantly, it shows a very naive and negative view on continual education. I speculate even further: They were explicitly looking for low level [cogs], and had no interest in people striving for a long term role as a mechanic, who might “not know his place”, etc. Where I have seen this kind of thinking applied ([E4], [E1], possibly [E5]) the result has invariably been low quality, problems with productivity and deadlines, a sizable proportion of dissatisfied and demotivated employees, and various other problems—not to mention that the few competent people tend to leave... Basically, one ends up with a Dilberterian employer.

Yet, this kind of philosophy seems to be very common, and the above incident is symptomatic for how the importance of knowledge is underestimated. Notably, an employee who spends a few extra hours per week at work is usually valued higher than the one who spends those hours on (work related) education—despite the latters developing his skill and productivity at a rate that outweighs the formers extra hours (at least in the mid-to-long term, at least for qualified positions).


Differing ideas of what a trainee is may have played in. As I knew the word from Sweden (both Germany and Sweden have imported and make ample use of the English word “trainee”) a certain amount of ambition was implied. Typically, the best college graduates were sought for; typically, the hired people received special training to prepare them for senior and managerial positions. In Germany, on the other hand, the original use seems to be followed, and any “on the job training” can be implied, including the Swedish cases, a crash-course in hamburger flipping, and the Azubi system.

Note for non-German readers: The Azubi system basically implies that college is skipped and an unqualified diploma is earned by part-time unqualified study integrated with part-time unqualified work. (Cf. Apprentice#Germanyw.)