Through the SAP Career Starters initiative, budding consultants go through an extensive training program. In these times, the online lessons demand everything of participants.

Nicolai Zschippig is one of 48 participants in the program who completed the seven-week fall course for new SAP Services colleagues from the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Middle and Eastern Europe (MEE) regions.

The program offers newcomers a solid grounding in all things SAP, along with necessary soft skills. Equipped with these basics, participants then return to their teams, where they undergo more in-depth training that is tailored to their individual requirements and activities. In parallel, they begin project work. Experienced colleagues and assigned buddies teach them what they need to know for their day-to-day work.

SAP normally offers this program three times each year, with all sessions moved online since May 2020.

Linking Theory and Practice

“The course gave me the overview of SAP I was looking for,” Zschippig says. “It enabled me to connect the dots and put the individual pieces I have learned so far together to create one big picture.”

Coming from an educational background in business administration, he found the technology-oriented subjects to be the most beneficial. But he also found the program items on personal development and business etiquette, taught by the service provider Berlitz, to be “very important and helpful. If you have direct customer contact, there are a lot of things you can do wrong,” reports the newly minted solution consultant.

Early in his SAP career, as an intern and later as a working student, he had the opportunity to work on the Global Supply Systems (GSS+) at Daimler AG. “I’m very grateful to my manager and the team for that,” says Zschippig, who earned his master’s degree just a few weeks ago with his thesis “Integrated Business Planning as a Solution Concept for Supply Chain Optimization in the Automotive Industry.”

Optimization of global material flows based on SAP S/4HANA is still a high priority for the German car giant, which means demand for support is high – one of the reasons why Zschippig will remain on the project team. He is also motivated by the opportunity to help implement this major transformation. And he’s a bit of a motorhead, too. So, it’s no wonder that he’s thrilled to be on board: “This is what I wanted to do.”

“Nicolai was already fully integrated, and the customer expects a certain stability on the project team,” explains Zschippig’s manager, Thomas Schick, head consultant for Automotive at SAP Germany.

Schick enrolls his new colleagues in SAP Career Starters because participant feedback has been consistently positive. “I bring the newcomers together with the graduates of the previous program promptly, so they can share their experiences,” he explains. He knows the importance of networking — “our business is global” — but he also knows that 2020 was a difficult year for making new contacts.

“What usually happens in the coffee corners has to take place online now,” says Zschippig. Although he has often approached other participants outside the class schedule, he wishes that virtual networking had been part of the official agenda, a suggestion that other course participants have also made.

Tightly Packed Program

There was no room for this in the agenda, however. With design thinking exercises, intercultural communication, group work on case studies, mandatory compliance and security training, information sessions on SAP S/4HANA and the ABAP workbench, and much more, every day was jammed full of content. The virtual format proved strenuous for the participants.

Zschippig developed his own methods and strategies for tackling the busy program. A smiley sticky note with the motto “keep a stiff upper lip” on his laptop screen is a constant reminder to participate attentively, especially when his concentration threatened to lapse.

“I often fixed lunch the evening before to give me time for a jog during the breaks,” he shares. Regular in-house exercises also helped to keep his body and mind in shape. As a result, he not only attended all the lessons, but still had the energy to document his notes in the evening.

When questions arose or if participants needed support, the SAP Career Starters team was there. Setting up a program like this and supporting the participants is a challenge even for experienced SAP instructors, especially in a pandemic.

Juergen Nelz, global lead for Skills Management in the Intelligent Delivery Group in SAP Services, was able to build on the experiences from the first virtual SAP Career Starters course in May 2020, along with his team.

“It was a real feat at first to switch the in-person program to a completely online format during the lockdown,” says Nelz. “That made it so much sweeter to get extremely positive feedback from the participants in May, and we used their suggestions to fine-tune the program for October. We adjusted the session length, for example, and made the sequence a bit looser. As a result, things have become routine since the October program.”

Between Expectations and Reality

In the meantime, Zschippig has become part of the SAP family. He appreciates the relaxed work environment and thinks that the team spirit that connects all SAP colleagues is a major plus for the company. You can communicate with executives at eye level here, he says. When asked if he sees SAP CEO Christian Klein as a role model — after all, Klein started as an SAP intern too — Zschippig grins. He doesn’t want to think things through that far, but it is a motivation for him. It means “you can do anything if you’re ambitious.”

Regular talks with Schick help Zschippig to develop his skills further and plan his career. He recently completed a programming course, which Schick recommends to every consultant: “Customers expect a certain level of technical expertise.”

Schick also insists that new colleagues to continue to invest their time in training in the coming months and be given enough room to ensure that the transition from university living to the working world goes as smoothly as possible. This is very important, he says, because he sees entry-level colleagues struggling with their work-life balance, even though SAP Career Starters participants spend a day on mindfulness and stress management during their course.

Schick thinks this issue might deserve more attention in the SAP Career Starters program. Another suggestion involves SAP’s cloud strategy. “What it means from a technological standpoint and what kind of transition periods we can realistically target,” would also be relevant content for the program, according to Schick.

Meanwhile, the participants for the next SAP Career Starters program, which begins this month, have already been selected. This not only reflects the success of the program, but also shows that SAP continues to hire even in difficult times.