“Today, work has to be meaningful.”

Felicitas Kuhlen, dual student at Henkel, and Athena Pawlatos, trainer for dual students at Henkel, on the prejudices and reality of the next generation at Henkel

New Work Feb 8, 2024

Athena knows from her own career where life can take you: she has worked for the civil service, for the state parliament – overall, a total of 14 jobs on her way to Henkel. As a trainer, she is now responsible for Henkel’s dual students. Felicitas is currently deciding herself where life can take her: She is a dual student of chemical engineering and works at Henkel.

One thing that both women agree on: When these different perspectives on life come together in teams, great things can happen.

Athena, you are a trainer and mentor for dual students at Henkel. How would you describe the current generation?

Athena: “I always try to see the individual. For me, everyone has a unique life and comes from a specific life situation. There are no characteristics that I would identify for a single generation. But what has changed over time: Today, people across generations are more likely to look for a deeper meaning in their work. That was different in the 1980s. Back then, people were happy just to have a job. Being unemployed and falling through the social system would have been unthinkable. Today, work has taken on a different significance. It has to be purposeful."

Felicitas, you graduated from high school at 17 and now that you're 20 you are writing your bachelor's thesis in chemical engineering at Henkel. What purpose do you see in your work?

Felicitas: "I still have so many hours of work ahead of me, I want to be able to identify with what I do and not just be unhappy at work for hours on end. Many young people who enter the chemical industry don't do it for money, as they used to. Like me, many of my fellow students want to make the world a little bit better. In my bachelor's thesis, I am investigating how alternative ingredients can be used to further improve the safety of adhesives and thus eliminate potential effects on the environment and health. That makes sense, because it benefits everyone: the production employees at the plant, the environment – and last but not least – me."

Felicitas Kuhlen, dual student of chemical engineering at Henkel

Work has to make sense – now and in thirty years' time.

Henkel looks back on a long tradition and at the same time faces enormous challenges. How do you feel about the working atmosphere at Henkel?

Athena: "I think it's great that Henkel offers a platform for collaborative and interdisciplinary work – regardless of age. If Felicitas and I wanted to work on a project together, the focus wouldn't be on our age or our different levels of experience, but simply on our names. It would be Athena and Felicitas working together. I find it funny when older people say that young people have little experience. Young people have also gained experience that they can put to good use in their working lives, and that experience is different.

Felicitas: "My experience with Henkel began in the summer of 2020, shortly after I graduated from high school. The first semesters of my studies were completely online due to Covid, so I hardly had any personal contact with my fellow students. Fortunately, starting at Henkel was a little different: Henkel had already organized a meeting for us during summer break, including a mentoring program. That was great! And it continued being that way: students have a lot of freedom when working on projects, they can test themselves and explore new avenues. And if I get stuck, I can ask for help. But I don't want the answers or solutions to be dictated to me."

3 questions for Felicitas Kuhlen, dual student & Athena Pawlatos, trainer at Henkel


Felicitas, are there any behaviors that surprise you as a 20-year-old and make you cringe?

Felicitas: "When I hear: 'We've always done it this way'. Thankfully, I don't hear that sentence often. These words usually come from employees who have been working in one area for a long time already, do their thing and use that as an argument. But I don’t let that unsettle me in my opinion. Nevertheless, I also find it important to emphasize: In all the departments I've been in so far, most of colleagues have been very open and flexible. Together, we agreed on the best possible solutions."

Athena, you have a total of 14 career stages behind you, and today you guide students as a trainer and mentor. What do you learn from these young adults?

Athena: "An incredible amount! These young adults give me a fresh perspective. I've been in the job for so long and have correspondingly set patterns in my head. If I want to break away from these, then I need fresh input. Critical questions such as 'why are you doing it this way' make me listen carefully and force me to think again. As a result, I always learn something new and can contribute that to the company."

Athena Pawlatos, vocational trainer at Henkel

I find it funny when older people say that young people have little experience. Young people have also gained experience that they can put to good use in their working lives, and that experience is different.

Felicitas, you are just starting out in your career. To ask a question of an older generation: Where do you see yourself in ten years' time?

Felicitas: "I want to remain flexible and open to constructive criticism, gain more work experience, but I can also imagine myself doing the same job for the next thirty years. Provided it challenges and encourages me. My aim is to never say, 'we've always done it this way'. I am sure of one thing: work has to make sense – now and in thirty years' time."

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