A new batch of CERN apprentices

This year CERN is once again hosting six electronics and physics lab apprentices. Over the coming four years they will learn the fundamentals of their trade under the expert eye of experienced CERN professionals.


From left to right: Eugénie Gallay, Adrien Tambasco, Bastien Ray, Frederika De Jaegere, Luca Fazzone and Loïc Garcia, the six apprentices who have just left CERN, having passed their diplomas. Jean-Marc Bouché is pictured behind them.

The selection process is long and arduous. Every year, up to 150 candidates between the ages of 15 and 21 apply for the specialised sandwich courses in mechatronics offered by Geneva's Office pour l’orientation, la formation professionnelle et continue in partnership with the Geneva Industrial Union.

Only a handful of those specialising in electronics and physics laboratory techniques – with strong applications and even stronger motivation – will be fortunate enough to work alongside CERN experts for four years, as vacancies are strictly limited. Of all the candidates who apply for apprenticeships in these two fields, only six will make it all the way to CERN, which has long supported this form of training.

Getting in. "To evaluate candidates' abilities and to unearth the best talent, we hold a kind of audition," explains Jean-Marc Bouché, who is responsible for the training of technical apprentices in the HR Department. "Candidates are shortlisted on the basis of the results of a written examination taken at an outside centre. They are then invited to CERN for the day where they take another series of written exams and practical tests where they have to perform tasks which are quite possibly outside their comfort zone, like building an electronic circuit board from just a drawing. This enables us to detect those who are capable of understanding and following instructions, taking the right kind of initiatives, and delivering high-quality results."

The six apprentices – three in electronics and three in physics laboratory techniques – are selected between January and June. The successful candidates then spend four years alternating between their school and CERN.

Keeping pace! "The apprentices work at CERN three to four days a week from their second year onwards (the practical part of the first year's curriculum is taught in a training centre) and return to the classroom for the rest of the week - the electronics apprentices in Geneva and the laboratory assistants in Lausanne. It's not always easy to keep pace," Jean-Marc Bouché admits. "Some apprentices live quite a long way away, in Thonon-les-Bains, Valleiry etc. so they have a long commute. You have to be highly motivated to keep going for four years."

Throughout their time at CERN, the apprentices are supervised by professionals qualified in various specialities. "We monitor them all individually," Jean-Marc Bouché explains. "We try, as far as possible, to provide relevant and satisfactory work experience. Up until now, it has all gone smoothly and all our apprentices have found a speciality that suits them."

The cherry on top. After four years of training the apprentices take a final exam, known as the CFC (Certificat Fédéral de Capacité). The practical part of the CFC requires them to do several specific projects which they must then present to a panel of experts. They also have to submit a report summarising their work at CERN. And once they have passed their exams? "While it might take some a few months to find work, others find jobs as soon as they finish," adds Jean-Marc Bouché. "But I do strongly encourage them to take a professional diploma (Maturité professionnelle) which opens the door to a university education."

The latest intake of CERN apprentices arrived at the end of August and they are already hard at work. They will be members of the CERN personnel for the next four years so we all wish them a pleasant and fruitful stay at the Organization.

by Anaïs Schaeffer