At Home Abroad

The Volkswagen Group is one of the world’s most international automakers. A staff development program known as “Wanderjahre” (years abroad), launched in 2006, allows qualified young employees to experience the Group’s international operations at an early stage of their career. Participating in the program plays a key role in their personal and professional development.
Sarah Ratajczak, 24, is on a 12-month placement at Autoeuropa in Portugal (photo)

Sarah Ratajczak loves Portuguese espressos. Until recently she drank up to five cups a day. “Fortunately I’ve stopped doing that now”, says the 24-year-old. “They do taste unbelievably good, but of course it’s not good for you to keep drinking that many.” The local coffee isn’t the only thing that the office clerk has grown fond of in her new home of Portugal during the past few months. Sarah will miss strolling down the narrow alleyways of Lisbon’s old town or going to the beach after work when she returns to Wolfsburg. But several busy weeks lie ahead before that. Since February last year, Sarah Ratajczak has been living in Palmela, around 30 minutes’ drive from Lisbon, and working at Volkswagen’s subsidiary Autoeuropa. She obtained a foreign placement on the “Wanderjahre” program that Volkswagen established two years ago. Sarah is one of 102 young employees gaining experience abroad thanks to the initiative.

“I only realized that Volkswagen is such a big international family when I came here.” Sarah Ratajczak, Lisbon (quotation)

Employees are eligible to participate during the first five years after they have completed vocational training or an StIP integrated degree and traineeship scheme at Volkswagen. Placements last between 6 and 18 months, with most participants staying with their host company for a year. At present, young people like Sarah can join Autoeuropa in Portugal or Bentley in the UK, Škoda in the Czech Republic, SEAT in Spain, Volkswagen de Mexico, Volkswagen of South Africa, or Volkswagen Group China. This year, two more destinations are being added – Volkswagen do Brasil and Volkswagen Group Australia. “In times of global change, we need employees who want to broaden their horizons, are flexible and ready for new experiences. They will become part of the outstanding team that we need for our future”, says Dr. Horst Neumann, member of Volkswagen Group’s Board of Management responsible for Human Resources.

Sarah Ratajczak applied for a placement in Portugal because she wanted to learn another foreign language in addition to English. Like all participants in the Volkswagen program, she was offered a local language course to help her. “I only realized that Volkswagen is such a big international family when I came here. It’s an opportunity that’s definitely worth taking”, sums up Ratajczak. There’s only one typically Portuguese experience that she is happy to live without: eating snails with a beer after work.

“I’ve learned a lot professionally. Swapping experiences is probably the best way to learn from each other.” Andreas Bastos, Brunswick (quotation)

Andreas Bastos, however, disagrees: “Beer and snails are a really delicious snack.” And he should know: the 24-year-old from Portugal is on a foreign placement like Sarah. Since 2008, young people from foreign subsidiaries have been offered the chance to come to Germany. This enabled Bastos to get to know Volkswagen in Brunswick – culinary experiences included: “I’ve now stopped eating so much Currywurst, the traditional German delicacy featuring sausage in a curry sauce – I probably overdid it a bit at the beginning”, he says. Andreas Bastos lived in Germany as a child and therefore already had very good German skills before he came to Brunswick. As an industrial engineer, Bastos works in the area of production systems, where he and his colleagues ensure that workflows are optimized. “I’ve learned a lot professionally. Seeing how problems are solved elsewhere will definitely be a great help to me when I go back”, says Bastos, adding: “Swapping experiences is probably the best way to learn from each other.”

Andreas Bastos, 24, from Portugal, is on a 12-month placement at Volkswagen’s Brunswick plant (photo)

This is exactly what the program aims to achieve: participants learn new working practices and get to know different countries, develop personally and professionally, and promote the international connections within the Company. “Both sides profit from this training program”, stresses Dr. Horst Neumann. “The ‘Wanderjahre’ are an attractive development opportunity for young people starting their careers. They also help the Company to acquire and retain employees who have international experience, and are open-minded and motivated.” These mobile employees contribute to safeguarding the international Group’s competitiveness by ensuring uniform production and organizational standards, and to developing networks between locations and countries.

Being international is routine for the Volkswagen Group (graphics)

Very close to
the markets


The Volkswagen Group is a company whose international focus is virtually unique. The Volkswagen Group operates 61 production facilities in 15 European countries and six other countries in the Americas, Asia and Africa. Its vehicles are sold in more than 150 countries. Just under 370,000 employees build almost 25,400 vehicles every working day or are involved in related services.

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