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“I am Currently Building my Own Truck”

Fouad Zara

The Volkswagen Group offers refugees various opportunities for career entry. A prime example: Fouad Zara from Iraq. He is training to become a mechatronics technician at MAN in Salzgitter. A portrait.

Fouad Zara comes from Mossul, Iraq. Because of his faith and the war, the 27-year-old fled to Germany in April 2015

At 27, Fouad Zara has experienced and achieved a lot in his young life. He grew up in Mossul, a town around 350 km north of Bagdad in Iraq, and was born into a crisis region in the middle of violence and destruction. “I grew up during the war, and saw nothing but destruction there. What was happening was just not human anymore. It was very dangerous to live there,” he reveals.

Fleeing from Iraq to Germany

He made the best of it. He graduated from high school and then started a degree in medical technology, and later also started training as an English teacher. “Unfortunately, I didn’t study for very long in Iraq. Because of my faith and the military conflicts, I had to leave Mossul. First I tried to apply elsewhere in Iraq, but without success. Then I tried studying to become an English teacher, but that also did not last long, because I realized that it was time to flee Iraq.”

He has lived in the Baddeckenstedt joint municipality, near Salzgitter, since 2015. This is where the Volkswagen Group brand MAN runs a training center

His destination: Germany. In April 2015, he first found accommodation at a refugee camp in Friedland, near Göttingen in Lower Saxony, one of the oldest camps for asylum seekers in Germany. Refugees from crisis areas all over the world are accepted here and distributed to sites across Germany. After a short waiting period, he was sent on to Baddeckenstedt, a small joint municipality in the district of Wolfenbüttel, where he still lives. “I feel very at home here. I can do a lot, move around freely and have already acquired some friends. I have now also received a permanent residency card.” And how did he cope with the German language on arrival? “To start with, I had difficulties with the whole bureaucracy as well as the language, because I hadn’t learned any German in Iraq. But when I came here, I immediately started learning at home. I also watched some YouTube videos and attended courses at the HAWK technical college in Hildesheim, for example.” Today, Fouad Zara speaks German at a good C1 level.

Vocational training as a mechatronics technician at MAN Truck & Bus, Salzgitter plant

Fouad Zara was, however, unable to enroll as a student at a German university because his high school diploma from Iraq is not recognized here. But, approximately 20 kilometers away from Baddeckenstedt, another opportunity of proving his abilities was on offer: at the Volkswagen Group brand MAN in Salzgitter. “At the beginning, I didn’t know what or where MAN was. But when I heard in autumn 2017 that this company offers the possibility of doing a one-year internship or what they call an entry qualification for training to become a mechatronics technician, I applied immediately. I enjoyed it so much that I also applied to do my training here, and was able to start on September 1, 2018.”

  • MAN Truck & Bus AG

    The Volkswagen brand MAN Truck & Bus AG focuses on activities in the areas of transport and energy, and supplies trucks, buses, transporters, diesel engines, turbo machines and special gearboxes. The company has its headquarters in Munich. In Salzgitter, 2,758 employees work over a plant area of 715,000 square meters and a logistics area of 436,000 square meters (figures from 2016). The Salzgitter plant is the exclusive supplier of non-driven axles in the production association of MAN Truck & Bus AG. The product range consists of front axles, leading and trailing axles, single-wheel suspensions and hydrodrive axles (driven) with axle loads of three to nine tons.

  • MAN Refugee Aid

    Together with various aid organizations, MAN has been involved in refugee aid in Germany for some time. The selected projects are intended to alleviate the greatest suffering, but also to create long-term prospects for refugees and thus to offer lasting assistance. The company and its employees help to support refugees in their day-to-day lives – for example, with language and school preparatory courses, comprehensive educational and leisure activities and by providing vehicles. Employees at the MAN sites in Germany also collect donations for aid organizations.

But where does someone who previously studied medical technology and English for teaching purposes discover an enthusiasm for a craft trade such as mechatronics technician? “What interests me about the occupation of mechatronics technician is that it combines three job areas: those of a computer scientist, a mechanic and an electrical engineer. This means that we can develop our skills in very different areas and also get to know all the vehicles and machines that come onto the market.”

Since 2015, the Volkswagen Group has been offering refugees various opportunities for career entry. A prime example: Fouad Zara from Iraq. He is training to become a mechatronics technician at the Group brand MAN. A portrait.

Training at MAN – portrait of a refugee

Fouad Zara in conversation with his trainer, Hans-Werner Ruhkopf

As a trainee, Fouad Zara is hardly perceived as a refugee anymore – whether he is learning the basics of welding, sawing, filing and drilling for three days at MAN, or attending physics, electrical engineering or mathematics classes at the vocational school two days a week. This, too, makes him proud: “I don’t have a mentor here, and I also didn’t take an extra language course. Like the others, I usually start work here at 6:45 a.m. and end my shift at around 2:45 p.m. And if there are things that I don’t understand, the foremen explain them to me very patiently. We all work together in a team here; I like that.”

Educational content: building a truck model.

From the beginning of his three-and-a-half year training, Fouad Zara has been able to build quite a few things – up to now, mostly on the basis of drawings which the trainees receive from their foremen. Like all the other trainees in his class, he is currently working on a very special project: building his own truck – in miniature. “This is how we learn how to construct a real truck as well as the names of the individual components that are important for manufacture. At the end, the truck models we make are assessed by our managers and we are allowed to take them home with us. That’s an extra motivation.”

But Fouad Zara feels very at home at MAN in other ways, too. “My best experience so far was the group trip with our trainer, Hans-Werner Ruhkopf, to Braunlage. During the day, we gave presentations there and got to know the company history better. The evenings, we spent together in bars or went skating in the skating rink. That was a lot of fun.”

Talking of skating: When he isn’t going to the gym or playing volleyball or football – his favorite team is FC Barcelona – he sometimes also braves the ice here in Salzgitter. But there is one thing that Fouad Zara has not yet been able to get used to here in Germany. “I have never ever experienced such cold weather. In contrast, it was always much too warm in Iraq.”

Dreaming of a Volkswagen Golf

Fouad Zara would like to buy a Volkswagen Golf one day

And what are his plans for the future? Fouad Zara is very down-to-earth about this. “Right now, I want to concentrate on my training. Whether I will then try to obtain my foreman’s certificate or enroll in a degree course again remains to be seen. For now, I am happy to have found a good training position at a great company and hope that everything will remain as it is now.” 

But Fouad Zara does have one more dream: “I would like to buy a Volkswagen Golf one day. It not only looks great, but is also small, compact and sporty. I like that.”