Ronny Weichert (left), one of 96 long-term unemployed given a new start by site manager Gerd Kunkel.
Neighbor to employee – Ronny Weichert never imagined it could happen this quickly.
When the trained metalworker, now 29, lost his job at the end of 2007 during a steel-sector crisis, it never occurred to him that he would one day make the move to WACKER at Nünchritz. Like other locals, he has driven past the company many times. “And I knew,” he says today, “that WACKER made silicones.” But that, he thought, is all about chemistry – they wouldn’t have a place for someone like him, a construction mechanic. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
Ronny Weichert was out of work for 13 months. Then his mother told him that she’d read in the paper that jobless people could go to the local employment office and have their name entered in a hiring pool.
The incinerator is monitored 24 hours a day – in
person during inspection rounds and remotely on
several computer displays.
This particular pool was part of a campaign that would culminate in WACKER returning 96 long-term unemployed to gainful employment. Before that could happen, Weichert had to participate in a selection process. “I had to take an intelligence test, see the company doctor and introduce myself at the WACKER HR department; they wanted to know whether I had already informed myself about the company in advance, and whether I had any idea of what a chemical technician does,” recalls Weichert. He had, of course, already scoured the internet, and four weeks later he was invited to an information evening. “When that letter came,” says Ronny Weichert, “I knew: this is just what I want, I’ll go.”
From May 2009 until October 2010, he was in the classroom, learning all about pipeline construction and chemical processes. Then the practical part of his chemical technician’s training at WACKER began.
Creating Jobs in the Region
Ronny Weichert, with his new future prospects, is only one example of WACKER’s collaborative approach to how it interacts with the local community. “We live here at close quarters with our neighbors,” says site manager Gerd Kunkel. “Especially as a chemical plant, we depend on good neighborly relations, and we’re willing to do everything it takes to achieve that.” Creating jobs for local people is just one aspect, but a very important one. By the end of 2011, 450 new employees will have been hired. What’s more, WACKER creates and safeguards other jobs in the region: approximately 1,500 construction engineers and fitters from companies based in Saxony and Bavaria are working on the site of the new polysilicon facility. Half of them are housed in vacation homes in the area. 80 percent of the construction materials used originate in Saxony. Regional suppliers are in demand not only at the building site, but also in other parts of the plant: “29 percent of our procurement volume comes from within Saxony,” says Andreas Scharf, responsible for commercial services. In 2010, orders from Nünchritz alone reached approximately €24 million, with businesses ranging from plant engineering and electrical installation firms to pharmacies and gardeners all benefiting.
Checking pipes is one of the things a chemical
technician must master.
Since 2000, WACKER has held a neighborhood day every year in June. Neighbors are taken on a tour of the plant, receive a light lunch and participate in a Q&A session. Environmental protection and industrial safety are major subjects. In recent years, of course, people’s attention has been focused on the construction of new polysilicon facilities. “We know that people have to put up with a lot during the building work,” says Gerd Kunkel, “so we talk to them and give them as much information as possible. This means we have to make more of an effort, but it pays off.” The plant’s expansion program did not trigger a civic protest movement; instead, local societies like the bowling and angling clubs are all pleased with what WACKER is doing because the company’s activities enhance the pride of an entire region. In addition, the anglers are benefiting from our wastewater treatment plant. The water at the feed-in point is so clear and pure that a whole host of fish are attracted to it.
Difficult situations are resolved in a way that everyone can live with. For example, there were four privately-owned houses right next to the Poly 9 construction site. We had long talks with the owners, all of whom wanted to sell their properties. WACKER ultimately bought the houses at a fair price that allowed everyone to move into new homes in the vicinity. Erika Hütter (80) says: “The folks at WACKER were really nice; even Mr. Kunkel himself talked to us at great length.” Today, her old garden has run wild, frequented by hares, and Erika Hütter no longer has to climb stairs, but lives in a nice ground-floor apartment “with a large living room, bedroom and nursery.” A nursery? “Indeed,” she says. “I need it for the furniture from my old house.” She is keeping the furniture as a reminder of her late husband, who died ten years ago.
Neighbor Erika Hütter in conversation with site
manager Gerd Kunkel.
Ronny Weichert is looking forward to the future. “I’m glad that I can now make some plans again, that I am no longer dependent on government help,” he says. He is currently working at the waste incinerator, and if it were up to him, he would also continue there once he has completed his training this fall.
He takes real pleasure in his work: accompanied by an experienced co-worker, he makes the rounds of all five incinerator levels at least twice during every shift. His training includes learning how to check pumps and pipes and how to replace seals. More serious repairs such as replacing a measuring instrument are the responsibility of the specialist engineers. On his rounds, Weichert always wears the requisite fireproof and acid-resistant overalls, safety goggles and a protective helmet. He can’t wait for the day when he’ll be allowed to exchange his white trainee’s hard hat for a yellow one – because yellow is the color of a permanent employee’s helmet at Nünchritz.