Specialists for the Future

HHLA secures important specialists for the future by training mechatronics engineers. Mechatronics engineers are versatile and indispensable, as their work ensures a high level of machine availability for container handling.

Repairing welds, checking brakes and testing gears – this is what Astrid Grünau’s working day looks like in the inspection group. She is 22 years old and now in her fourth year of training to become a mechatronics engineer. Her shift begins at 6.50 a.m. Changed and ready to go with safety shoes, yellow work trousers, a work jacket and helmet, she sets off with the inspection group at the Container Terminal Burchardkai towards the container gantry cranes, warehouse cranes or rail-mounted gantry cranes. She checks the brakes and the gears of the large machines and then deals with any defects she may have uncovered. Rain and cold do not bother her. On the contrary, she enjoys the varied maintenance work outside in the fresh air, and isn’t at all fussy. “I sometimes bang my head or slip over. But bruises are just part and parcel of the work,” she says.

Astrid is one of 19 mechatronics engineers that are currently being trained at HHLA. The programme lasts three-and-a-half years. The HHLA Group has been training mechatronics engineers since 2008. Between three and six trainees are normally trained every year by the Service Center Burchardkai (SCB) or Altenwerder (SCA), as well as the Container Terminal Tollerort. “These experts are particularly important for HHLA! They service, inspect, repair and optimise the large machines,” says Jan Wehlen, head of technical training. In his view, the qualified job is absolutely essential. “Without our workmen, the machinery could not be maintained. And without machinery, it would not be possible to handle containers.”

While at school, Astrid Grünau volunteered for a technical aid organisation. “That is what provoked my interest in a technical profession in the first place,” she explains. She subsequently applied to HHLA, which was promptly followed by a test, an interview and then her acceptance.

During their period of training, the trainees switch regularly between the training facility, the Hamburg Training Centre (HAZ) and the vocational college. In addition to courses of study, trainees also obtain workmen patents for forklift trucks, straddle carriers, tractor units and container gantry cranes. After three-and-a-half years, the trainees must pass a theory and a practical exam.

Astrid Grünau has finished her training period and her final exam succesfully. The exam includes a technical discussion and a change order for an automated facility, which must be documented and demonstrated. “I was asked questions about electrical and mechanical engineering, occupational safety, my inspection record and many other subjects,” explains the trainee.


Five new young people began their training to become mechatronics engineers at HHLA on the first of August. One of them is Tobias Heldt, who is being trained by the Service Center Altenwerder and who is currently at the workshop for automated guided vehicles (AGV). The 17 year-old feels right at home: “At the start of our training, we were given a good insight into the Group. The SCA organised an information event for the parents of all the trainees, including a tour. I thought this was very good.” Henning Verstege, Operations Manager of the SCA, values his up-and-coming specialists: “Training to become a mechatronics engineer is very comprehensive. We train specialists that can then work in almost any area.” This way, a mechatronics engineer can work in workshops, equipment teams, maintenance and in the breakdown department. “Here, we also address the existing issue of a lack of specialists,” he explains.

For Jan Wehlen, other characteristics are also important to learn this specialised job, aside from an interest in technical work. “Interdisciplinary knowledge is important in order to understand the work processes at a terminal. Diligence and accuracy are also key.” He absolutely believes that this specialised job is extremely important for the future of the company. “The training course to become a mechatronics engineer is an important cog in the gears of handling. The internal development of specialists counters the increasing challenges associated with maintenance.”

At the end of their training, Tobias Heldt and Astrid Grünau shall be just such versatile, essential specialists. They will then be able to become a technician or obtain the title of master craftsman. Tobias Heldt has set himself the goal of broadening his IT knowledge during the training period. After her final exam, Astrid Grünau has joined the inspection group team at SCB.