27. Nov 2019
Nikolai Schneider’s life changed dramatically when a car accident left him paralyzed. His subsequent search for a job proved frustrating – until he applied to Köster in Medebach
Medebach. A firm handshake, a warm and friendly laugh. Nikolai Schneider hurries enthusiastically through the production hall, showing us his workplace and his tasks on a CNC milling machine. The 34-year-old has been working in metal cutting at Paul Köster in Medebach for a year and a half now. What may sound completely normal has not, though, been an easy feat: Nikolai Schneider sits in a wheelchair.
At the age of 19, his life seemed to be going well: school, training as a mechatronics engineer, good career prospects. Then, in 2004, he was involved in a serious car accident. The outcome: Paraplegia between the 7th and 8th thoracic vertebrae. A wheelchair. One year in hospital, another in rehabilitation clinics. But Nikolai Schneider didn’t give up and went on to train as a technical draughtsman and then as a CNC milling machinist. And he wanted to work, preferably with metal: “It’s simply my thing and I enjoy it.” He sent off countless applications, but despite a shortage of skilled workers, rarely even received confirmation of receipt: “You’re no longer wanted. It’s not a nice feeling.”
In May 2017, the company Paul Köster in Medebach received his application. They spoke on the phone and the first interview took place in June. HR manager Hildegard Köster and the design manager were impressed by the determined young man and offered him a position as a draughtsman at a desk that could be relatively easily adapted for his wheelchair. But what was Nikolai Schneider’s response? “Ms. Köster, that’s very kind of you, but I don't want to work in an office. I want to mill!” Yet, would that be possible on the existing machines? Köster had just invested in a new production hall with suitable machinery. There wouldn’t really be any other costs involved. And once Nikolai Schneider had impressed everyone during his 14-day trial period, Köster decided to offer him the job.
But employing a long-term unemployed person with a disability needs more than just the agreement of both parties. The necessary paths via various different authorities in two federal states, since Nikolai Schneider lives in Hesse, made it a long and difficult process. Application forms, cost estimates, quotations, assessments, consultations, inspections of production halls and machines – the list of to-dos in the application process is a long one. Plus in most cases, the first response you get from anyone is: “We’re not responsible for this.” Time and time again, Hildegard Köster had to submit application forms with countless attachments to various authorities by specific deadlines, and could then do nothing but wait. Every few days, Nikolai Schneider would call to inquire about the status. Hildegard Köster laughs: “Admittedly, it was sometimes annoying, but in a positive sense. We were impressed by how much he wanted the job with us and were just sorry that everything was dragging on so long. It’s not necessarily the case that companies don’t want to hire employees with a disability, but that the authorities make it so difficult for them to do so. It’d be nice to have one single contact person to support you, help you comply with all the relevant regulations and laws, and put you in touch with the right contacts to speed up decisions.”
All the responsible authorities finally gave the green light and Köster purchased a DMU50 type CNC milling machine, specially adapted for Nikolai Schneider, for €187,000. The company received a grant of €57,000 for this and paid the remaining €130,000 itself. They also received funding to adapt their sanitary facilities and doors. Almost one year later, Nikolai Schneider signed his permanent employment contract with Köster. Since April 2018, he’s been working in a dual-shift operation and gets on very well with his colleagues: “He’s a great guy, always in a good mood, and fits in perfectly here.”
And what does Nikolai Schneider have to say?
“I can finally work like everyone else. Perfectly normally.”
The family company Paul Köster GmbH was founded in Medebach in 1907 and specializes in special mechanical engineering. The Medebach site employs 300 people; a further 50 people are employed in China and 25 in Thuringia. Four other employees have individually adapted, wheelchair-accessible workplaces at the company’s Medebach site.