Axpo’s traineeship programme allows graduates to find their place in the energy sector through exposure and exploration.
By Francesca Martini
poly-E-fair Company Relations Assistant
March 22, 2021
By Francesca Martini
poly-E-fair Company Relations Assistant
March 22, 2021
For recent graduates, figuring out the perfect entry step into the job market can be daunting. Axpo knows this, so they offer traineeship programmes that provide an opportunity to get familiar with roles, projects and company culture, before deciding on a clear career direction. We spoke with Kathrin Schweizer, Philipp Lütolf, and Sandro Renggli who all participated in the Axpo traineeship programme. This traineeship programme is 18-months long, divided into three 6-months rotations within different departments. Kathrin, Philipp, and Sandro share with us the path that led them to Axpo’s traineeship programme and their experiences during that time, as well as offering advice for ETH graduates looking to join Axpo.
Axpo is the perfect first career step for curious minds
Kathrin Schweizer completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering at ETH Zürich. During the last year of her studies, she undertook an internship at Burckhardt Compression in Switzerland and wrote her master thesis in Hong Kong. “These experiences made me realize I still had a lot to learn but no more time to do it in since I was at the end of my study curriculum”. Kathrin did not get discouraged. She looked for a position that would allow her to keep on learning. She found what she was looking for with Axpo’s traineeship programme, which allows a great degree of personal and professional development. A traineeship requires its participants to be an integral part of Axpo’s teams, interacting directly with everybody from management to field operators, and to be able to take on all the challenges that the project requires. “I welcomed these challenges, and I was excited to apply my skills to solve problems”, Kathrin says.
Philipp Lütolf has always been interested in energy systems, and this is why he did both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering at ETH Zürich. From early on in his studies he always felt there is a lot of power in electricity (pun intended), “Electricity drives so many aspects of our society, but often, it goes unnoticed”. To further explore this fascinating topic, he went on to complete an internship at Swissgrid, which confirmed his interest. From there, applying to Axpo was a ‘no brainer’, as Philipp puts it, “Axpo’s sheer size makes it a major player in the Swiss’s power systems landscape and gives them the capacity to take on innovative projects, which would simply not be possible in a smaller firm”.
Sandro Renggli, who also studied Electrical Engineering, is passionate about complex systems, and finds that there are not many as complex as those in energy. During his studies he worked part-time for Semax, a Swiss smart meter solution company. At the same time, he focused on the application of machine learning algorithms to energy system challenges in his academic projects. “After those experiences, I knew I wanted to work in the energy sector, but the field is so broad, I did not know where to start. A traineeship, where I could explore different topics and then decide what I liked best sounded perfect to me”. Indeed, it turned out to be a great match. Sandro had the chance to dip his toes into the topics of business intelligence tools and IoT data pipelines at Axpo, to then follow his love for data science and machine learning working at Axpo’s subsidiary CKW.
An innovative workplace culture and the energy sector
In a nutshell, why do Kathrin, Philipp and Sandro like working for Axpo?
They all thrive in a dynamic environment where they can work on challenging and innovative projects, and extremely important topics like sustainability in the energy sector.
Kathrin, Philipp and Sandro all highlight how important it is for them to be part of the energy transition Axpo is making. “I want to be in a workplace that fosters innovation and transformation”, Kathrin told us, “and Axpo’s management is open and receptive to change”. This is obvious when one is looking at Axpo’s cutting edge projects but also by the fact that the working culture at Axpo as a whole is changing. Axpo is making a collective effort to introduce agile methodologies and flatter hierarchies, while being mindful and respectful regarding the needs of the more static departments, so that “nobody gets left behind”.
“ETH students have the right attitude towards learning.”
Kathrin shows no hesitation when answering how ETH prepared her for her new position, “ETH equips its graduates with the ability to learn new things quickly and encourages the discipline to go through with it”. This feeling is also shared by Philipp and Sandro, who add how, “group exercises and projects teach ETH students how to work in a team”, a critical soft skill highly regarded at Axpo. Sandro also stresses “not to be scared to reach out for help when you feel you need it”.
“University years are a time for self-discovery, enjoy them.”
Sandro is extremely concise in his message to ETH students, “Follow your passion, and your career will follow”. Philipp and Kathrin agree with him, and they stress how important it is for students to explore their interests as much as possible during their studies, go abroad if they feel like it, and do not feel too pressured to gain specific knowledge in a certain field. “Being open minded is key, if you have a strong passion for something, go for it, even if your passion is learning new things”. The beauty of a traineeship is having the chance to experience wildly different topics across several departments. “So, pursue your interests and explore new topics, always give your 100%”.
“But if you can, learn to code.”
Every one of the Axpo trainees mentioned at some point or another how important it is to be able to code or have some IT skills. They all wished they devoted more time to this area during their studies, even though at Axpo they had ample access to learning resources that helped them to speed up their skills in this field. “It is never too late to learn a new skill, if you put your mind to it,” says Sandro, who taught himself how to use machine learning algorithms in python in just a few weeks.
“Be yourself and keep a positive attitude.”
Talking to Kathrin, Sandro and Philipp, it becomes clear what Axpo looks for in new graduates. They are searching for people who are genuine and excited and open about diving into new and potentially challenging topics. All trainees were assigned at least one ambitious and innovative project where they had to, not only work their way through several technical challenges, but also learn how to deal with dependencies and how to connect with their co-workers. During her first rotation, Kathrin was using drones to monitor the state of power lines, and AI tools to predict patterns of damage. To explain to Axpo’s field operator the value of this innovative approach, she decided that it was best to meet up with them in person, she says, “And it worked! Once I was able to introduce myself and the new strategy, they truly took the time to listen to me and were very supportive.”
“Axpo’s management is really supportive, and even as a trainee you can get a lot of recognition.”
Whether it is by presenting their work internally to management or at an external conference, Axpo’s trainees feel valued in the company. “There is a great degree of openness from senior members of the company concerning the input of the trainees.” I have the feeling that, if I were to be unhappy at work, I could call the CEO to let him know. Well, maybe not the CEO, but upper management for sure”, chuckles Kathrin while explaining how she feels communication and feedback is handled at Axpo. “Trainees are valued in the company, because they are an integral part of the team and can eventually, hopefully, pursue their career at Axpo.” This is what has happened to Philipp, an IoT Solution Engineer at Axpo, after completing his traineeship.
“The poly-E-fair is a good avenue to learn more about Axpo’s culture and the opportunities for graduates.”
Finally, the Axpo trainees told us, what the best way is to prepare for the poly-E-fair. Philipp’s suggestion was, “to take time ahead of the fair to inform yourself about the companies that you are most interested in. That enables participants of the fair to ask specific questions that are important to them.” Kathrin stressed the importance of “trying to talk to as many people as possible and establishing a degree of personal connection with them.” The last piece of advice from Sandro, is extremely valuable, “Be yourself and don’t be afraid to express your enthusiasm.”