Interview with Julia Thun and Niko Treptow about the “Step forward!” logistics trainee programme 

Niko completed his trainee programme with us in 2016 and is now Managing Director at Rhenus Air & Ocean in Vienna. In this interview, he talks to Julia, who is currently in her fourth station of the trainee programme. The two of them talk mainly about what opportunities the programme offers, including career development.

Julia Thun & Niko Treptow

When did the trainee programme start for Julia and what degree did she bring with her?

Julia: I started the trainee programme in October 2017, so I’ve been here for more than 1.5 years now. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Management and Economics at the Ruhr University in Bochum – after that I did a Master’s degree in Business Administration with a focus on Operations Research and Management at RWTH Aachen University.


How has the trainee programme been so far?

Julia: My first station was in the warehousing department in Gießen, where I supported project management. For the first time, I had the opportunity to take on responsibility in a large project. The topic was the target/performance analysis of two core processes in picking. The individual steps involved analysing and taking stock of the processes and developing solutions.

After six months, I moved in rotation to my second station, from Gießen to Cuxport. There, the focus was on port logistics – a new and exciting challenge for me. The project at Cuxport related to the “introduction of a terminal management system”. In addition to analysing terminal processes and documenting software requirements, my tasks included software tests and parts of depot management.

This was followed by my international assignment in Vienna until March 2019. The trainee programme offers the opportunity to go abroad to get to know the foreign culture better and to develop personally. At Rhenus Air & Ocean, I was able to work on various smaller projects after my previous stations and got an insight into the day-to-day business of a branch. My tasks included, for example, preparing data protection topics and helping to process tenders.

I am currently part of the RHAIZEN team at Rhenus Warehousing Europe. My next project relates to the rollout of an innovation at various European locations.


In comparison, how did Niko’s trainee programme proceed?

And how did it continue for him afterwards?

Niko: I started at Rhenus in May 2014 as a trainee, and I am now Managing Director in the Rhenus Air & Ocean division. At our locations in Vienna and Graz, we handle all sea and airfreight requests from our customers in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, with some rail container orders from China as well.

For me, the trainee programme began in Moers in the Public Transport unit at NIAG, which organises the coal supply for the power plants in the region. One of the tasks here was to optimise volume flows and personnel schedules.

The second position took me to Freight Logistics in Hilden. My tasks there were specifically the development of new customer concepts and the pricing of tenders for the Road Freight project department.

The third stop was abroad at Rhenus Air & Ocean in Porto, Portugal. The opportunity to get to know both a new language and a new subject area at the same time was a really exciting challenge for me. The team in Portugal had never had a trainee before and was all the more friendly and interested in my person. In addition, I was able to make the structures and values of the Rhenus Group better known in another country, a classic win-win situation. My work was mainly in the operative day-to-day business.

Last but not least, I was able to support Contract Logistics in Dortmund in the area of process structures and KPI monitoring – but only for 4 months as my subsequent position started in March 2016.


What makes the trainee programme special from Niko’s point of view?

Niko: Our programme was more transparent, but now it is more flexible. There were only two starting times and one programme. The positive thing now, as then, is that the programme is not planned in advance and every trainee can have an influence on it. In retrospect, I consider this to be the main USP compared to the programmes of the competition.


Does Julia see it the same way or has something changed in the last few years?

Julia: At the beginning of my trainee programme it was similar to Niko’s, the starting time was either in April or October. Recently, this has changed and the trainee programme can be started more flexibly. Otherwise, the structure of the programmes has not changed significantly.


Which positions were most exciting for Niko and Julia?

Julia: For me, the trainee programme offers the chance to get to know many different units within two years. I had already gained experience in warehousing, but business units such as Port Logistics and Air & Ocean were new to me. The opportunity for personal development also consists of reorientating myself professionally and personally every six months. I can’t really answer the question of which station I found most interesting – all three stations offered something completely different. I was able to draw my own added value from each of them.

Niko: I wouldn't want to highlight any one station from my programme either, as they all had their advantages. Moreover, you go through an enormous process yourself. I was at a completely different point in my own development in station one than at the end of the programme. Portugal in the summer did have some advantages, though.

Julia: In my current position in Vienna, I am very lucky to get an insight into the activities of a Managing Director. I sit together with Niko in an office and get to see his daily responsibilities in the working day. So I can also draw valuable insights from his experiences.


How did Niko and Julia experience the support provided during the programme

Niko: From the beginning, we were supported by a mentor. In my case, it was a Managing Director of Port Logistics. We had a very open and constructive relationship and I am still very grateful to him today for this interaction. During my training, the “Buddy Programme” was also established. It was a nice way to make use of the experience of the “older” trainees, with them sharing it with the newer trainees and giving them a tip or two along the way. I always had an open ear for my two buddies.

Julia: We also continue to have mentors. I was very lucky that my first manager in Gießen – Regional Manager Central at Warehousing Solutions Germany – also became my mentor. It was great for me because I could approach her with my concerns at any time. Even now, we are still in regular contact. We talk about my current station and I get an insight into her current challenges, which helps me personally. However, we no longer have a “buddy programme”.


What else characterises the trainee programme apart from the different stations?

Julia: On the first day, all new trainees met in Holzwickede to get to know each other. We were informed about general organisational matters, such as travel costs, holiday planning, etc. The kick-off event was a good opportunity to get to know each other. Through the kick-off event and the following training, we grew together closely as a group. All in all, we have trainee training every 6 months. Topics such as self-awareness and relationship skills are covered and a business case on commercial topics is gone through. In addition to the kick-off event and the training sessions, there is an annual event where all the trainees get together. This gives them the opportunity to exchange information about the different stations and experiences. Last year the event took place in Sauerland, two really intensive and informative days.

Niko: We had a two-day kick-off event with a pleasant mix of professional exchange and getting to know each other personally. Within our “class” we had very close contact, but at that time it was a bit more manageable because we all started at the same time and consequently always had to deal with the same general conditions: looking for a new position, finding a flat, transitioning into a permanent position, etc.

Julia: I am in constant exchange with the other trainees. One of the reasons for this is that I, together with two other trainees, am responsible for our trainee newsletter. For this, we always ask the trainees if they would like to report on their time abroad or on an exciting project. Through the newsletter, you also receive information from other trainees without having to contact them directly.


What position did Niko choose after the trainee programme

Niko: I started as “Assistant to CEO Air & Ocean Europe” in April 2016. An extremely exciting challenge with a lot of travelling. It was my desired position and I am still very happy that I chose this path.


What can the “graduate” trainee give his new trainee to take with her?

Niko: The only thing I can tell Julia is that she shouldn’t just follow the beaten track, but instead keep her eyes and ears open and take advantage of the opportunities that Rhenus offers.

Julia: Of course, I already have ideas and preferences regarding my entry position after the trainee programme. But as Niko has already said – at Rhenus you should always be ready for the next opportunity that comes along.