Energy is a precious commodity. This became particularly obvious this winter. Ensuring the stability of the Swiss electricity grid and guaranteeing an uninterrupted supply of electricity – that is Swissgrid’s job. The company has more than 600 employees who work with a great deal of motivation and commitment to develop the best solutions for the Swiss transmission grid.
Beatriz Alvarez, Specialist Ancillary Services & Analytics, and Julius Schwachheim, Head of Capacity and Congestion Management, talk about their careers at the grid company as well as their «humble beginnings» as interns.
Beatriz Alvarez, Julius Schwachheim, you both joined Swissgrid via an internship after university. What were you studying at the time and how did you hear about Swissgrid?
Beatriz: I heard about Swissgrid by a happy coincidence. I originally studied physics in Geneva, where I was always particularly fascinated by the subject of energy. Later, as part of an exchange programme at ETH, I gained my first insights into the world of electrical engineering. After completing my Master’s degree, I worked as a research assistant at Empa. My boyfriend’s family lives in Aarau – and Swissgrid’s headquarters are right next to the train station. One day, my boyfriend suggested that I should try my luck at Swissgrid.
And how did you react?
Beatriz: I went on the company’s website to find out about Swissgrid’s expertise and its various areas of specialisation – and I liked what I read. So I applied and was fortunate enough to obtain an internship. That was just over a year ago.
Today I am a permanent employee and work for Swissgrid as Specialist Ancillary Services & Analytics.
What about you, Julius? Your internship was a little longer ago.
Julius: That’s right, I took my first steps at Swissgrid over ten years ago. At the time, I was studying electrical engineering in Germany and didn’t know anything about Switzerland’s national grid company. In my last semester, my professor suggested Swissgrid as the focus of my Master’s thesis. That was in 2012, and that’s what led to my internship.
What made you want to do an internship at Swissgrid at the time?
Julius: Well, first of all, I had already contributed to quite a few practical projects at Swissgrid while writing my Master’s thesis, which is something I was keen to continue. Secondly, the internship at Swissgrid offered me the chance to expand my knowledge in the technical areas that I’d already covered and been interested in during my studies. An internship was the easiest way to obtain further experience at Swissgrid. That is still true today.
Beatriz: Unlike Julius, I don’t have a background in electrical engineering, so the internship represented a slight change of direction for me. What convinced me was the idea of being able to have a positive impact on the environment, which is why I was particularly interested in taking up the opportunity of an internship.
For you, working at Swissgrid was more or less a lateral move. How did you feel about that?
Beatriz: At the beginning, I actually had a hard time dealing with my new environment. In addition, working in German caused me problems because it’s a foreign language for me. After a few months, I was able to switch from a project on artificial intelligence to one that was more in the field of electrical engineering. I appreciated the change, which is a good illustration of the agile way of working at Swissgrid. I was always well supervised and looked after. This allowed me to learn a lot during my internship and to get involved right from the start. I liked that very much.
Julius: Obviously I found exactly the same working environment that I had already come to know and appreciate at Swissgrid. The great thing about doing an internship at Swissgrid is that right from the start, you get to work on practical projects that help the whole company to advance. Back then, I was allowed to accompany a Swissgrid management team on a project abroad as part of my internship, and I was actively involved in the project myself. It was a challenge, but it taught me a lot.
«What convinced me was the idea of being able to have a positive impact on the environment, which is why I was particularly interested in taking up the opportunity of an internship.»Beatriz Alvarez
What impression did your internship give you of Swissgrid as a company?
Beatriz: I learned that Swissgrid works in a very solution-oriented way. The key is open communication: I always felt that I was being listened to and taken seriously, which is crucial to well-being in a company. What’s more, Swissgrid is not hierarchically organised, but has a strong horizontal structure. You are free to exchange ideas with all the people in the company, to ask questions and to gain knowledge. This positive culture of proximity still appeals to me today. It’s always possible to go beyond team and subject boundaries to network with people and exchange ideas.
Julius: This open culture appealed to me a great deal at the time as well. Even as an intern, I felt like a valued part of the team.
After the internship, you both accepted a permanent position at Swissgrid. Where are the main differences in relation to your initial positions?
Julius: In my case, the main change is in terms of responsibility: in 2016, I was given the chance to take over the team that I lead today. In this role, I am now responsible for the kind of projects I initially helped with as an intern. However, the path from volunteer to member of the management team has always been characterised by the fact that the management team, both then and now, offers employees a huge amount of support and gives them appropriate responsibility. This also applies to the interns. Part of Swissgrid’s recipe for success is that interns are not simply seen as cheap labour, but are given valuable expertise and offered prospects. In my opinion, the fact that we have often been able to recruit internal talent for our management positions in recent years speaks for itself. This fostering of employees is essential, especially when faced with a shortage of skilled workers, and it starts during the internship.
Beatriz: My internship was originally only supposed to last a year. But my supervisor approached me with the idea of staying longer and venturing into a new field of activity – with the appropriate preparation and guidance, of course. I was brave enough to agree, and was trained accordingly in the final period of my internship. I am still learning new things every day, but I can always count on the support of my supervisor and of my entire team. I have set myself the interim goal of soon making phone calls in German (laughs).
Based on your own experience, who would you recommend a Swissgrid internship to?
Julius: Due to the energy crisis this winter, many more people than before are now aware of what we do, of how important it is to have a secure supply of energy and of what an essential role our grid plays. So if someone wants to take a look behind the scenes of the energy supply and take on responsibility early on, Swissgrid is the perfect place to do it, and an internship is the ideal way to start.
Beatriz: I would recommend a Swissgrid internship to anyone who wants to gain work experience in a positive and motivating atmosphere. You can find your own place in the company, and Swissgrid is extremely accommodating and flexible. We have a welcoming culture, which is important to me. That’s why I would definitely recommend it, especially for women: the energy sector is still a male domain, but at Swissgrid, special events, workshops and so on are held for the female workforce. Swissgrid places great emphasis on diversity and inclusion in general.
«If someone wants to take a look behind the scenes of the energy supply and take on responsibility early on, Swissgrid is the perfect place to do it, and an internship is the ideal way to start.»Julius Schwachheim