Know what it's really like
“Practice makes perfect”, says an English proverb, and that’s not just talk. How important it is to have practical experience was clear to Austrian UASs from the very beginning, which is why a practice-relevant academic education has always been the centre of its educational concept. Those who get their degree from a UAS do not do so in an ivory tower of knowledge – instead, they come into contact with professional work life at a very early stage. This is a concept that has proven successful over the last 25 years and has made impressive careers possible – all of which began with a work placement.
Like that of Christian Gabriel, who today is General Manager of the Russian subsidiary of Exyte Rus LLC in Moscow and was previously the successful Managing Director for Unger Stahl for seven years in Russia, Belarus and Turkmenistan. “Before I came home from my work placement in Moscow, I knew that I would definitely return”, recalls Gabriel, now 38, in connection with how his career began in the Russian capital city. His career, like so many others, started with a work placement during his studies at a UAS: From 2000 to 2005, Gabriel studied “International Business Relations” at the FH Burgenland, which at that time – before the Bologna Process – was still a “Magister” study programme. “I had a work placement semester in the foreign trade office of the chamber of commerce in Moscow, which, because of the problematic visa requirements, gladly took students from UASs”, he reports. “Moscow received me very warmly back then, and it is a city which has great dynamics and a lot to offer,” he still raves today about the home he chose which fascinated him from the start. “I met so many interesting people there and got into contact with expats”, he remembers.
Contacts that quickly led to the first job offers: “I was asked if I wanted to work in Russia – and, since not a lot of people want to go there, I became CEO of Unger Stahlbau already at the age of 27”, he tells and recalls how much the work placement accelerated his career, which is still the case – despite two major crises in the country. Today, Gabriel is paying his UAS back by supporting the FH Burgenland and hiring interns in Moscow and helping them create a network when they are there. And he would like to stay in Moscow for a while: “At least until my children start school”, he describes his timeframe. He then laughs and adds: “Though I don’t have any children yet.”
Thomas-Ferdinand Perktold also completed his work placement abroad – but that is the only similarity in terms of career paths. The 25-year-old took a completely different path, which goes to show the broad spectrum of Austrian UASs. His alma mater is the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt – which is also a UAS. Here, exchanging practical experience with other armies is heavily emphasised. “I did my work placement on the German base Rostock-Laage, an airfield where also Austrian pilots are trained to fly Eurofighters”, reports the Lieutenant, who earned his bachelor’s degree in “Military Leadership”. Since his graduation in 2018, Perktold has been working in the Austrian Army in air-traffic control, and every day he appreciates the experience he gained during his work placement. “I think it’s great that these internships are supported, because it’s really important to see how other armies work – and also to show what we do well in Austria”, he stresses. And even if the purpose of work placements and the Military Academy is not to introduce yourself to future employers, these internships have positive effects: “Just the international contacts that you make are fantastic”, says the soldier.
Job offer received
But exactly that is what the work placement semester can do in more conventional careers: securing a job before graduating. This was the case for Maria Löffler, who studied “Financial Accounting & Management Accounting” in the bachelor’s programme from 2015 to 2018 at FH CAMPUS 02 in Graz and will be working on her master’s until 2020. But this isn’t keeping her from working part-time for the accountant and tax adviser PKF Corti & Partner in Graz. This opportunity only presented itself during her bachelor’s studies. This business was one of the first that Löffler, now 23, had an interview with, and, which also quickly hired her. “Thanks to the application training during my studies, I was well prepared”, she says, recalling how she was able to get the work placement at the business of her choice. Besides the fact that she wanted to stay in Graz, it was also important to her to get a taste of all the areas of business she would experience in her daily work life later on. “It was really positive to be able to gain experience here in a variety of different fields of responsibility”, she remembers. And she is still doing so, since she was offered a job after her work placement semester that she couldn’t refuse: “I work 25 hours a week while I’m working on my master’s”, she happily reports.