28th June 2024

People at ALPLA - Interview with Juan Nitzl

Juan Nitzl joined ALPLA in 2013 as Head of Apprenticeships in Shanghai. Back then, the training centre (the ‘Future Corner’) in China was just an idea. Yet by 2014 the first twelve ALPLA apprentices in China had already started. Juan has been guiding young people at ALPLA in China ever since and talked to us about his work. 

Juan Nitzl in front of a workbench

Juan Nitzl is Head of Apprenticeships at ALPLA in Shanghai.

Hello Juan, it’s nice of you to make time for us. Let’s talk about your job: how would you explain your job to a child?

I work with 16- and 17-year-olds who have decided to take part in a highly qualified dual vocational training programme at ALPLA, here in China. Dual education means practical and theoretical skills.

A dual apprenticeship is the perfect opportunity to gain work experience and obtain a vocational qualification at the same time. In a dual apprenticeship, you will learn practical skills directly with us in our training workshop, the Future Corner, such as operating machines or simply drilling or filing. Everything you need for your future working life at ALPLA. 

At the same time, for longer blocks of time (6-8 weeks) you will attend our vocational school in Shanghai or Taicang. There you will learn the theoretical knowledge related to our 3 apprenticeships: CNC, Mechatronics and Plastics. 

You are responsible for the dual training in China. What is special about working with young people in China?


I wouldn't say it's country specific. Young people, whether they live here, in China, Europe or anywhere else in the world, are similar in some ways. But back to your original question: what is it like to work with young people? It's just fun and sometimes challenging to interact with them, to train them, to teach them, but to see how they develop - both professionally and personally - can be really amazing.

If my information is correct, you did an apprenticeship yourself. What kind of apprenticeship did you do back then and how does your apprenticeship in Germany differ from the apprenticeship you offer today in China?


At that time, I was trained as a machine fitter. I remember when CNC was still in its infancy. There was no internet, no mobile phones, and no social media, so my training was purely mechanical. 

If I were to compare what we do now with what we did then, I'd say we're still basically doing the same thing. Our apprentices still produce the good old U-profile, and mechanical turning and milling are still part of their training. I see the basic training as identical to my time, although there are differences after that, such as CNC machines, computers, and other modern equipment. 

However, one thing will always remain the same, and that is the young people who are looking for an apprenticeship that will provide them with a good qualification.

We have been offering this training in China for eleven years. What did the first graduates go on to do? Is there a special story you would like to tell?


You see many young faces in our Shanghai Technical and Competence Centre but also in our plants and most of them, I'm proud to say, passed through our Future Corner. There are several stories that I could tell you about this but let me just pick one of them.

One particular case is that of a young girl who completed an apprenticeship as a plastics technician and is now a junior product designer. 

 It has been a remarkable career for her here in Shanghai.  She was very committed from the very beginning and even though she was the only girl in the group, she always stood her ground against the boys. It has always been a pleasure for us to support and encourage her in all her stages in the ALPLA family. 

Juan Nitzl working at a machine with an apprentice watching him, shot 2014.

Juan in 2014 - when the Future Corner in Shanghai has been established.

What has been your greatest achievement so far, whether professionally or personally?


On a personal level, my greatest achievement is my 13-year-old daughter. It's wonderful to watch her grow up here in China and the joy she has in her approach to life.

Professionally, I am very proud of what we have achieved so far with Future Corner in China. We came here in 2013 with empty hands and look at what we have achieved so far. It has been a great time and a great achievement with a great team. I always like to look back and talk about it.

How do you like life in China? What are the biggest differences to Europe?


I have been living in China for 17 years now and it has become my home. The biggest difference is certainly the language and the writing, and even the cuisine can sometimes be something of an adventure. I am fascinated by the speed with which even the simplest of things can be implemented and put into practice here. For instance, one day a road is a bumpy track and the next morning you drive along the same road, but the pavement is smooth, and they have done it in one night.

What does the slogan ‘Family of Pioneers’ mean to you?


This brings me back to the achievement: we were and still are in a way the pioneers of Austrian dual education in China. At that time, there was already dual education in China - the Chinese own system and the German dual system - but we wanted something different, we wanted to integrate our apprenticeship, the Austrian system, and that's what we did. Together with other Austrian companies and the local authorities in Shanghai and Taicang.

Back then we had a clear idea of what it would be like, and to date we have been able to integrate 3 apprenticeship training programmes based on the Austrian model into the Chinese system, with a fully-fledged and recognised Austrian LAP [Austrian final apprenticeship exam].

With these achievements, I fully identify with the Family of Pioneers.

Who would you like to trade jobs with?


To be honest, not with anyone. I really enjoy, if not love, being the Head of Apprenticeship in Shanghai. That's why I can't think of anyone with whom I'd like to swap places. 

If you had an extra hour a day, what would you use it for?


With an extra hour, I would just want to enjoy the peace and quiet and read a good book.

What do you like to do in your free time?


I've loved photography since childhood, and Shanghai always offers new subjects, whether abstract, bizarre, or attractive.  I like to always keep my camera with me during my free time. 




Juan Ignacio Nitzl 

55 years 

Head of Apprenticeships in Shanghai

Married, one 13-year-old daughter



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