Roots Operators: fostering the best apprentice


Clad in working suits, moving among the various devices, students of the 2015 BASF Class were having a lesson on chemical devices operation when we visited the Shanghai Petrochemical Academy (SPA). In a large area were devices and equipment that usually can only be seen in the chemical factories.

On a summer afternoon, Ruan Jialei, a post-95 boy who had just finished his practical training session, smiled and asked, “Do I look like rustic in the working suit? But I have great sense of achievement every day.”

In September 2015, 21 young people, all of a similar age to Jialei, joined BASF’s new operator apprentice program at SPA in Jinshan District, Shanghai. At school, teachers usually call them students of BASF Class. At BASF, the program goes by the name Roots Operators.

Roots Operators is the second Roots program introduced by BASF in China following Roots Laboratory. It aims to recruit students from petrochemical schools with two years of fundamental study experience. It provides them with one year of further studies on production-related topics defined by BASF and a one-year internship at the BASF site. Qualified candidates will be hired as BASF production operators after finishing the program.

“The idea for the Roots Operators apprentice program is based on our long-term need for a great number of well-trained production operators, especially for the new investment projects we are currently planning and implementing in Jinshan and Pudong, in addition to the needs of the existing plants,” said Dr. Xue Congjun, Vice President Operations and Site Management, at the Pudong and Caojing sites, Greater China. “It is estimated that Roots Operators will supply five percent of the fresh blood for the front-line production operator team of BASF Pudong site and Caojing site every year.”

“Through the Roots Operator program, we will support more young talents who are committed to operations in the chemical industry by providing them with a professional education that also includes a lot of practical training elements,” explained Dr. Lars Reichmann, the former Vice President, Human Resources, Greater China, BASF. “Like a tree with strong roots to grow and gain stability, they can start a long and stable career in BASF and become the foundation of BASF’s safe and highly efficient production network in China.”

Although vocational education is no longer novel in China, the quality of vocational education varies in different places around the country. In Germany, however, vocational education has enjoyed a long history. Helmut Kohl, the former German Chancellor, even called the dual-track vocational education mode the secret weapon of the country’s post-WWII rise. This cooperation between companies and schools can cultivate students’ specific skills based on companies’ needs, combine practical skills and technical knowledge required by companies with theories and general knowledge taught by schools, and therefore, stably provide good professional talent. This valuable experience in Germany could be leveraged in China to make up the gap between school education and company needs as well as address the possible unemployment of graduates.

Roots Operators is a tailor-made, dual-track vocational education program jointly undertaken by BASF and SPA. It fosters young production operators for BASF through training, combining theory with practice. “Leveraging the same philosophy of the renowned apprentice programs in the Ludwigshafen headquarters and other international BASF sites, Roots Operator provides both theoretical and practical training, preparing all candidates for a future job in one of the BASF’s modern chemical sites in China,” said Dr. Reichmann.

“We believe Roots Operators can make more Chinese students experience German ‘craftsmanship spirit’, that is dedication and continuous improvement,” added Dr. Xue. “The program can not only create an all-win situation for BASF, the school and students, but also sets a good example for vocational education in China.”


"Roots Operators can make more Chinese students experience German ‘craftsmanship spirit’, and set a good example for vocational education in China."

Dr. Xue Congjun, Vice President, Operations and Site Management at the Pudong and Caojing sites, BASF Greater China 


"Like a tree with strong roots to grow and gain stability, these young talents committed to operations in the chemical industry can start a long and stable career in BASF."

Dr. Lars Reichmann, the former Vice President, Human Resources, Greater China, BASF

The successful collaboration between BASF and SPA dates back more than a decade, when a BASF Class was initiated in 2005 and 2006 at SPA with courses especially designed for BASF to support the ramp-up of the Caojing site.

Now, based on previous cooperation with SPA, BASF engages bbz Chemie (a BASF’s specific education institute in Germany) to design training modules of Roots Operators. The training takes into consideration differences between the German and Chinese education systems with the focus on BASF’s needs and in integrating the experiences and teaching methods of the German apprentice programs that are focused on practical experiences.

In addition, with the coordination of BASF, SPA and bbz Chemie, teacher exchanges are regularly held to broaden the teachers’ horizons and to continuously improve the tailor-made lessons and their international levels. Students can gain more practical operating experience and be confident that they will become qualified operators after completing the training.

By example, materials for “Chemical English” are jointly compiled by BASF and SPA. They cover both intensive reading and extensive reading and highlight those related to devices and technologies of BASF. The Chemical Device Operation course is a practical training session especially designed on the discussions among BASF, SPA and bbz Chemie. This close collaboration enables students to acquire professional skills needed in practice through lessons in the classroom and helps them better adapt to a multi-language and multi-culture work environment in the future and develop a more international mindset.

According to Victor Lv, who is responsible for daily operations of the Roots Operators program, over the past year of the program’s implementation, in adhering to the concept of “inviting in and extending out” BASF has been active in cooperating and communicating with SPA and bbz Chemie to facilitate the smooth development of the Roots Operators program. BASF keeps in close contact with SPA and follows up on the dual-track training quality of both teachers and team leaders from BASF. Production experts from BASF and employees graduated from SPA will go to the campus every month to audit the lessons of the BASF Class, discuss the teaching program with teachers, share with students the device operating principle and give them a general introduction about BASF. Education officials from Jinshan District and teachers and students from SPA are also invited to visit the BASF Caojing site so that they can experience the clean production environment and the latest news of the site personally. These activities in China will also be updated to bbz Chemie via regular conference calls during which the feedback from bbz Chemie is received. 

SPA Principal Lin Guoxin.

“We hope to invite some industry experts from companies with high professional levels who are enthusiastic about vocational education to come to our school and give lectures or participate in the school’s academic construction,” said SPA Principal Lin Guoxin, “This will facilitate the healthy development of all training sessions, accelerate our education level towards internationalization and better cultivate professional talents.”

According to Mr. Lv, in addition to recruiting schools from SPA, BASF is also proactively exploring ways to re-educate its employees. This summer, 30 operators working at the BASF plant will take part in a summer camp organized by SPA especially for BASF, for further education and development at school. 

Photo of students of 2015 Roots Operators Program.

As the new generation pays more attention to their career development when choosing a job, salary is no longer the sole criterion. They dare to voice their ideas and face unknown challenges, which is no doubt helpful to improving their status of technical talents and creating a broader platform for their growth.

Speaking of why he chose the Roots Operators program, Jialei said that apart from BASF’s reputation as a global leading chemical company, he was attracted more by the training models and all the possibilities in his future career with the company. Dr. Xue noted that some of the students of the BASF Class from 10 years ago have now become senior engineers and assistant managers - the backbone of BASF.

“BASF’s emphasis on safety impresses me most. Every person in charge of every device will highlight safety rules and regulations,” added Jialei. “We must wear personal protection equipment properly in strict accordance with EHS requirements before entering plants. The international level of BASF is fully revealed in detail.”

“Operators attached great importance to the company’s safety standards and life-long learning opportunities,” said Dr. Reichmann. “BASF’s employee learning and development programs, as well as experienced colleagues, will support these young talents from the Roots Operators program to further develop themselves. They also have the opportunity to transfer to other production sites that BASF has around China.

Roots Operators is only the first stop of the professional careers for these young people. Soon, Jialei and his classmates will enter the real battlefield. He has pictured his future blueprint in his mind for long, “I will study hard and become be a production supervisor as soon as possible!”

SPA Principal Lin Guoxin: For SPA, we hope they can become qualified and outstanding employees at BASF where they can demonstrate their professional skills and create more value for the company.

Dr. Xue Congjun: I hope they can make full use of the one-year internship to earnestly learn professional knowledge and skills and complete the transition from students to operators. In addition, they must strictly comply with operating regulations and recognize BASF’s corporate culture. I hope they can all join BASF in the next year and through hard work they will be able to independently undertake more important jobs.

Dr. Lars Reichmann: We expect them to continue to learn during their journey with BASF. They have already shown their good performance and their eagerness to learn during the time at school and now they will learn in a new environment in our sites, with our colleagues. If they will be as committed to learn and engage in the BASF activities and from experienced and committed BASF colleagues at the sites as they were in SPA, this will be a very successful start into their BASF career. Our colleagues will be more than happy to have them around as new and well-qualified members of the BASF family. 

Recommended articles