An unexpected Journey – Insights from the DRIVE Graduate Program
I am Max, 28 years old, from the south of Germany, close to our Plant in Regensburg. After my studies in Mech. Engineering at the TU Munich*, I joined the DRIVE Graduate Program in May 2019 with stations in Babenhausen, Guadalajara (Mexico) and Regensburg. Since May 2021 I am a part of the Performance Management Team within A UX O EX.
In the final months of my studies, I was wondering, where and how to start my working career. From previous internships I gained several impressions from the automotive industry, so it was obvious to check out OEMs and Suppliers as potential employers. In parallel and while searching for career paths, I learned about “Graduate Programs” that numerous companies offered to attract young professionals. I dug into what Continental offered with its “DRIVE” Program and found it to be matching with my expectations for such a program. When studying abroad, I really enjoyed meeting people from different cultures and loved that the program involved abroad assignments. I also believed this to be a good way to start a career and getting to know a global company in a short period of time. As Regensburg is closeby to my hometown, I asked a bit around and had the chance to speak to a former DRIVEr, who also confirmed and underlined my understanding and expectations of the program. When I applied for the program, I quickly got a positive response and began my DRIVE journey in May 2019.
Soon after joining the program, I started at my first station in Babenhausen, Germany, where I got to select a station for the program’s abroad assignment. I decided to live in Mexico, because I was interested in learning Spanish and the idea of living on the other end of the world for 8 months sounded exciting. My manager and former DRIVErs, who had spent their assignment in Mexico as well, made the relocation easy and quick which was very relieving for me.
Once I arrived, I quickly got to know the kindness and openness of Mexican people. Previous DRIVErs told me about that, but experiencing the Mexican hospitality firsthand made my stay a true joy.
When I recall my time abroad, my personal highlight also marked the most challenging time for me.
To me, personal relationships are very important. I like to work with people and also connect with them. At home, I nourish the relationships with the people I am surrounded with. Starting with my girlfriend, friends and family, but also with my colleagues. When the global Covid pandemic hit, I saw my plans to travel the country, exploring culture & people cancelled.
Soon I was estimating the impact the pandemic would have on private and professional life and weighed the Pro’s and Con’s. I quickly made the decision to stay in Mexico. Not being able to travel the country also brought some nice side effect that I didn’t expect: Staying On-Site allowed me more insights into the daily lives of my local colleagues. Everyone invited me to spend some time – this way I didn’t felt as lonely as I had anticipated when the pandemic hit. We went to the beaches nearby, like Puerto Vallarta or to the Lake Chapala - For sure I also had some trips to Tequila town!
Besides this my Mexican colleagues and friends took me to visit their hometowns close to Guadalajara. One of my best friends and colleagues Michell, even took me to visit his grandparents on a Ranch - not sure if they ever met a German guy before – and it was fun! I really appreciated their hospitality, and I will never forget the “efforts” they made to make my time there unforgettable.
Along the Program, we had several meetings/workshops, which created a really strong relationship with my “Co-Drivers”. During my current position, I enjoy the time being onsite in the plants and meeting the colleagues in person. As we are responsible for all the UX plants across the globe, it is hard to meet them regularly personally so I enjoy it whenever I get the chance.
The people factor is only one of many things that I enjoyed in the program. When it comes to career planning, the program hits the spot, too!
I enjoyed the mixture between working directly on the Shopfloor, discussing KPIs with Plant Managers and even planning for the new Greenfield plant in Novi Sad.
From the very beginning, the whole atmosphere in the program is very positive. You are motivated to contact and meet new people all the time. Which means on the one side you can create a network, which will help you finding the right position after the program but also in the work you will do afterwards. On the other side you need to be open to new tasks and challenges and adapt very quickly, also building up network and collaborate with various people (from different cultures) efficiently.
To sum it all up: When I started the program, there were many „unforeseen“ topics along the way, like transformations and of course the Corona pandemic, we were forced to adapt rapidly to a variety of circumstances. But these challenges also strengthened our mindset and skills, and I always felt supported by the program and its responsibles. Retrospectively I’d say it was a great experience for starting a career, it taught me so much!