Engineering apprentice on the move

Porträt Rebekka Liefert

Rebekka Liefert undergoing an apprenticeship at PSI as a polytechnician (Foto: Scanderbeg Sauer Photography)

The milling machine stands idle. But Rebekka Liefert is moving ahead at a speedy pace. On a snappy tour, the engineering apprentice shows us round the technical laboratory on the PSI East campus. She knows every work room and every machine inside out. This year the young woman completes her four-year training by sitting her final practical and school exams.

At the present time, Rebekka Liefert is one of twelve engineering apprentices. And one of the three female participants – one with lots of energy. Her mother is a design engineer. Her father makes models from wood. She was, therefore, born with a propensity for spatial thinking and a liking for handicrafts. Her enthusiasm for this occupation began with a taster course at PSI. In contrast to other training venues what she liked about the research institute was that it almost only makes prototypes. The components for the research facilities are usually individual pieces at PSI. Series production didn’t appeal to her; she quickly got bored. I can’t sit still, says Rebekka Liefert laughing, that’s why the variety here is perfect for me.

Staying on the ball

In the beginning, however, the work didn’t have anything to do with making prototypes. On the lower floor of the training workshop, the young first year students drill, turn, mill and file small pieces until they have mastered the techniques. But Rebekka Liefert says that she still enjoyed this time. Every year four school-leavers begin their engineering apprenticeships at PSI – there is no shortage of young participants. The apprentices in the workshop happily work together but each on their own pieces. Of course, you can chat from time to time but you have to really concentrate when you’re operating the machines, explains Rebekka Liefert. This is characteristic for this job: working in a focussed manner and staying on the ball, otherwise mistakes will happen. Apart from that, the machines may only be operated with full concentration because of safety at work. This is the reason why the 20-year-old wears solid protective footwear and googles, which she didn’t put on, of course, during the interview, but pushed them back casually into her hair.

After the first year, the apprentices start on their first commissioned work. For large commissions, they are divided into teams. Rebekka Liefert appreciates the teamwork, working together on a prototype and coordinating the work amongst themselves. To the accompaniment of rustling she spreads out a giant drawing in front of herself: the plan for the casing for a SwissFEL system. The shapes of the individual pieces are complex. The sequence for drilling which hole when and milling which notch has to be very well thought through. And the work must be precise to the tenth or even the fiftieth of a millimetre, so literally splitting hairs. That’s why each job is a new challenge.

More of the same – or completely different

Later in their training, the apprentices start working on larger machines. They are computer-controlled. It’s all about telling the bulky machines what they have to do, about programing them correctly. Nevertheless, this is a high-pressure job. Rebekka Liefert is on her feet eight hours a day – always on the go.

And if it was up to her that’s how things would continue after her traineeship, too. Rebekka Liefert would like to work as a engineering technician in a company. After that, she might consider doing an advanced training course at the technical college. Her training at PSI opens several doors for her – even those that point in a completely new direction. I might go to art school, muses Rebekka Liefert. She is very interested in body art, to be more precise tattoos. Later, after completing her advanced artistic training, she might very well open her own tattoo studio. In any case, she has already designed her first tattoo.

Text: Simone Nägeli

Find your vocation at PSI

In total PSI offers 14 different training occupations. Besides engineering technician, the technical occupations include, for instance, automation engineer, electronics engineer and physics lab technician leading to the Swiss Certificate of Competence (EFZ). PSI has modern machinery. As most in-house research facilities are designed and built by the Institute, the trainees benefit from the highly diverse contracts and a wide range of working materials – from aluminium over gold down to plastics. The graduates are thus very well equipped, both for advanced training at a university of the applied sciences and for jobs in industry.

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