“There’s no such thing as a silly question” is what I always tell our trainees.

Torsten Böttjer is responsible for taxes and customs duties at WESER-PETROL. In this interview, he talks about his commitment to in-company vocational training and why he doesn’t believe in “cramming”.

Torsten Böttjer’s main job is to handle energy tax processes. He also looks after the DS Group’s wholesale and foreign trade trainees. In a relaxed atmosphere he explains everything about mineral oil to them. And doesn’t stop explaining until every last question has been answered.

The DS Group companies currently have around 30 trainees. With practical in-company experience alternating with teaching blocks, the dual training system offers many advantages. Yet, often some questions still remain unanswered. So, it’s time to speak to Torsten Böttjer, who has been mentoring DS Group trainees for many years.

Mr Böttjer, how did your involvement in in-company vocational training come about?

At the beginning of my career many years ago, I was lucky enough to meet two colleagues at the DS Group who passed on to me a lot of their knowledge about Mineral oil. Indeed, I’m still drawing on that knowledge today.
Many people prefer to keep their knowledge to themselves. Although I came here from the oil sector, these two colleagues showed me that I still had a lot to learn about mineral oil. I was glad they were willing to share their knowledge with me. I was also fascinated by the way they did this. I benefited greatly from this and at some point realised that I also wanted to give something back.

Portrait picture of Jean-Lucca Neubauer

“There’s a difference between reading a textbook and talking to someone who’s known the subject for years.”

Jan-Lucca Neubauer, fully trained as business economist BIHV since January 2019

What steps did you take before embarking on in-company vocational training?

I went to our Human Resources department and sat down with the Human Resources manager to explore ways of supporting our trainees even more effectively. During their traineeships, the young people are acquainted with all parts of the Company. We then developed our own training plans for our company.

The dual system has proved its worth – what aspects of in-company vocational training need to be improved?

The dual training system provides trainees with a solid basis for their professional careers. However, it is also important to specifically prepare for the exams in order to obtain vocational qualifications. The trainees do not really learn how to prepare properly for the oral exams during their time in the specialist departments. So, over the years I have familiarised myself more and more with the requirements of the oral examinations.

Portrait picture of Ilka Tirrel

“In preparation for the oral test, I realised what subject matter I had not yet understood. This was just in time to find answers to my questions.”

Ilka Tirrel, trained as a wholesale and foreign trade merchant in June 2019

How do you specifically support the trainees?

I give them the final polish they need three to five months before they sit for the oral exam.

We go through all aspects of the subject matter again: the origin of oil, exploration, production, transport, processing, refining, OPEC, fracking. We also discuss basics such as the difference between heating oil and diesel. This is because this is potentially the type of question that may crop up in the exam.

When it comes to quality differences in heating oil, we talk about aspects such as calorific value, flame value or cold point. We go through all the subject matter until the trainees can recite in their sleep what the tube furnace of a refinery does.

Training opportunities at the DS Group
We offer solid vocational training for school-leavers for the following careers:

  • Management assistant in wholesale and foreign trade
  • Betriebswirt BIHV (Business Administration Specialist)
  • Management assistant in office management

You can find more information about training in DS Group companies here.

What do trainees say about further training on top of the vocational school?

It's not about extra lessons at all. If anything, it’s more of a casual conversation, during which trainees are able to ask questions.

I have developed my own style – I don't believe in cramming. Instead, we talk about many things in a sensible, comfortable group situation. I want the trainees to have fun and look forward to the 1 ½ hours they spend with me.
I make sure that they do not come to me directly after vocational school because then they have already had six hours of lessons in the morning. That’s why I don’t give lectures. Instead, I talk with them.

I am happy if, when they leave my session, they are able to say “I am no longer as anxious about taking the exam as I was”.

Torsten Böttjer, Taxes & Customs

Are these regular meetings for DS Group trainees?

No, they’re more of a sporadic event. First, I find out when the next trainee has his or her exam. Then it depends on whether the trainees come from DS’s Mineral Oil division or DS CARD + DRIVE. Their training varies according to the field in which they are working. Then we talk about topics such as hedging or foreign currency margins.

I always start my session by saying that there is no such thing as a silly question.

Torsten Böttjer, Taxes & Customs

In my view, there are only silly answers. When someone doesn’t understand something, I encourage them to ask questions. “If you don’t understand something, ask the question a second or third time until you do.” The questions show me what the trainees have not understood or in what way they have understood something. For example, when trainees ask a complex question, this forces me to consider whether I may need to change the way I explain the subject in question. Is my explanation perhaps too complicated? I can tell all this from the questions the trainees ask me.

What do your colleagues say when the trainee is absent from work due to the session with you?

I am there for everyone - and my colleagues know that too. When a trainee enters my office and says: “I have a question,” I always take time for them. And the crazier the question is, the longer I take. Because I want to know why the trainee would think to ask a question like that. Has he perhaps completely misunderstood something in his department? I take my time because it is important to me for the trainee to understand the subject matter.


Do other DS Group employees support you in this work?

Obviously, all departments in the company pass on their knowledge to the trainees. I maintain close contact with two colleagues. One of them handles the training on exchanges, while the other one comes from the pellets department and shares his knowledge of this area. This is because the oral exams frequently include questions about recyclable energies.

Do you feel that your work is bearing fruit?

Definitely! As we see it, the trainees always leave the talks a little smarter than when they enter them.  That’s why we’re happy to support them. And we’re always thrilled when they get good grades in the oral exams.

Is this always the case?

Almost always (laughs).

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