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The first batch of Mechatronics Apprentices have earned their certificates after completing the three-year course from the Volkswagen Academy in Chakan, Pune. The 15 apprentices will join Volkswagen India and be assigned to key departments across various functions. From among the, two apprentices who excelled in the programme have been accorded special recognition. The apprentices who comprised 11 boys and four girls have been placed in key manufacturing functions that include planning, maintenance, pilot hall, quality and engine assembly. Candidates for the course from among 400 applications and tested for several capabilities including aptitude, hand-eye coordination and English.

What do the students in Institute learn?

It’s a sweltering Thursday, 10 am in Mumbai. Outside the pandemonium of daily traffic is roaring, with light smoke wafting over the city. Yellow school buses park in front of Father Agnel ITI College. The private institute in the outlying district of Navi Mumbai is one of the best technical training institutions in India. These are the first weeks of the course for Manpreet and his fellow students.

On this particular morning, the students are eagerly clustering around the new vehicle, a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta. Manpreet, at 23 one of the eldest in the group, has expertly connected the car to the computer. The task today is to connect the car with the laptop in order to call up and evaluate the most important data. In the early stages of the course, it’s all about the basics. How do I charge the battery, check the wheels, the oil or water level, or how does the fine-tuning of the light settings work?

“It’s important to us that the students familiarise themselves with a Volkswagen, because usually their families do not have cars,” says Suresh Nagaraja. He himself is an automotive engineer by profession, worked for Volkswagen Group Sales India Pvt Ltd (VWGSIPL) for many years and often travelled to Germany for work. On account of his teaching skills, he was named Manager for Technical Training and the VG-TAP training programme. When Suresh Nagaraja took a look at the institutes and universities for prospective mechanics and engineers in India, he continually found outdated techniques being taught, and demonstrations being conducted on engines that were, in some cases, over 50 years old. “The state educational system is egregiously behind the innovations at Volkswagen,” says Suresh Nagaraja. In light of this, he and his team decided that they had to do something

Who are the sponsors of this institute?

Since 2010, Volkswagen Group Sales India has therefore invested in training students with an affinity for cars. The VG-TAP programme is a good example of the broad-based educational initiative that was started some five years ago, and from which students like Manpreet are benefiting today. The initiative includes not only technical but also mechatronics programmes. Retailing and sales are also a focus of efforts, as is the advancement of women. The aim is to better prepare the young prospects for the requirements of dealerships, mechanics’ garages and factories. The VG-TAP training programme is designed to be as practice-oriented as possible. In addition to attending lectures and tutorials, the students also spend several weeks training at dealerships. There they also get the chance to drive Polos, Passats or Ventos.

For students who are on the programme, the educational offering is substantially better than in state institutions. Training workshops have been extensively renovated and meet European standards not only in terms of the building. Students here also work with modern equipment, and receive instruction on new drive or safety technologies on modern engines or manual transmissions. The demonstration equipment also includes multi-function steering wheels with integrated airbags.

Due to the success of the VG-TAP programme, VWGSIPL is now also pressing ahead with joint projects with 18 institutions at various locations around India. Instructors, too, receive ongoing training at the Volkswagen Academy in Pune, the epicentre of the modern Indian automotive industry. “By becoming students once again themselves, they reflect on their own style of instruction and try to impart the new knowledge in an even more understandable way,” says Suresh Nagaraja.

What are the benefits for students?

The results of the VG-TAP programme speak for themselves: of 1,018 students to date, 788 successfully completed the programme, and 361 of them were hired as service technicians with the Volkswagen Group. Word of the programme’s quality has spread far beyond the borders of India – graduates have been recruited to places as far afield as Dubai.

Graduates who are hired by dealerships after completing the programme are generally just at the beginning of their careers. Two of the most successful graduates are Tejas Rane, 22, and Suraj Nikam, 21. They are currently being trained as master technicians at the Volkswagen Academy; in addition to technical expertise, they will soon be qualified for managerial positions as well. “Things are more structured in German companies – that helps foster teamwork,” says Tejas. For him, the training programme represents a great opportunity. His father worked as a mechanic for auto rickshaws and understands little of what his son is learning now. The family lives in a tiny one-room flat in an outlying district of Mumbai. Suraj comes from a similar background. His family moved to Mumbai from a rural region in the hopes of enabling the children to pursue good careers. The money that Suraj and Tejas earn at Volkswagen is channelled back to their families – the young Indians already make several times the salaries of their fathers.

How are the students selected ?

Candidates who have cleared class X in maths and science are eligible to apply for MAP. The applicants have to appear for a written test which assesses their logical and aptitude skills. The shortlisted candidates have to clear an interview to make it to the top 16, who then get admitted to the programme. “We received over 400 applications when we launched this programme for the first time a few months ago,” informs Vijayan indicating the popularity of the skill development programme and the candidates’ need for practical training.

To provide the best possible support for our students, it’s important for us to have an idea of their previous levels of technical knowledge as well as their family backgrounds. So we maintain close contact with the instructors at our partner institutes. They often invite the parents or siblings to events, and also visit the families at their homes.