Good specialist workers are the backbone of a firm. But what makes an employer attractive in times of digital transformation? How do firms acquire the next generation of workers and how do they keep staff in the firm?
Agile working, IT competence and life-long further training – diverse and complex abilities are expected from today’s employees. In addition, earlier patterns of working together are being pushed into the background by the new possibilities of digitalisation. These are changes which firms have to confront. One of the pioneers in this area is the Trumpf GmbH + Co. KG in Ditzingen. At the beginning of April, this machine builder opened its doors to the agile community for the first time. The main emphasis in the 1st Agile Days was on a solution-oriented exchange on current trends and challenges in the agile context. But what does this mean in concrete terms? “We wish to be courageous in seizing the initiative not only to respond appropriately to a rapidly changing world, but also to shape it actively – as a firm, as a team, as human beings,” the firm explains. Correspondingly, interested persons were invited to interact in Ditzingen. The focus was on four main topics: customer and innovation, roles and competences, strategy and goals, and organisation and culture.
Digitisation also calls for a cultural transformation
Keeping up with digitisation, shaping one’s path according to personal needs and abilities, and at the same time re-using what has stood the test of time – this is one way in which things can work. Prof. Wilhelm Bauer, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in Stuttgart and State Technology Commissioner in Baden-Württemberg, sees three steps to successful digitisation: “Firms must now recognise that digitisation means a significant transformation of industry. They must furthermore continue to develop their competences and, thirdly, have the courage to tackle challenges.” The fact that this topic has not been taken up in all areas of industry is apparently explained by the strong state of the economy: “Many businesses do not dedicate any time to digitisation because their order books are full. Yet it is precisely in times of economic strength that the necessary resources are available to tackle the topic.”
For the personnel manager at Trumpf, Oliver Maassen, digitisation also calls for a cultural transformation: “The digital transformation demands the freedom to be allowed to make mistakes so that one can learn from them,” says Maassen. Agile ways of working help to establish this new understanding of work at Trumpf. “Existing structures have to be elastic in order to permit fresh, creative ideas, for example ideas coming from career beginners,” adds Bauer. “Regardless of whether top-down or bottom-up, when the change is pushed ahead in both directions, a two-sided reinforcement of the process takes place,” Bauer continues.
But digitisation also means changing the understanding of leadership. “For the Boss 4.0, the focus is on developing the competences of employees,” says Maassen. “At the same time, the manager develops his own abilities further and frequently gathers feedback. The key word for success is communication.”
Future-oriented staff retention
One thing is clear: With the multitude of changes in the working world, only qualified employees guarantee a successful firm development. One way of achieving this is to train staff oneself.
For more than ten years now, the New Generation Foundation for German Machine Building has been established as an important strategic partner for skills training in Germany. The foundation’s activities concentrate on stronger careers-orientation in schools, ensuring the availability of skilled workers throughout machine and installation construction, and the soonest possible innovative transfer of new technologies into career training. Accordingly, such topics as Industry 4.0 and mobile learning are on its agenda. In diverse workshops, teachers in machine construction learn information and methods for handling these topics of the future. One example is Mobile Learning in Smart Factories. This is an application for mobile devices for use in the relevant work and learning situation: the context-relevant information available from the internet is didactically prepared and presented. The target group is trainees and their teachers, as well as those starting a career in machine construction.
According to the foundation’s director, Peter Bole, the service is received well: “Since the foundation was formed, in the last ten years more than 7300 training and teaching staff have been prepared for future challenges in seminars lasting several days and can now guarantee the technology transfer from machine construction into skills training. We have likewise been able to convince more than 120,000 young people of the attractions and opportunities in the sector during their visits to the special exhibition Young People at the last EMO in Hannover and at other leading fairs.”
He underlines that digitisation and Industry 4.0 are increasingly becoming an established part of the training. “The New Generation Foundation for German Machine Building has carefully chosen three future-oriented projects to tackle the challenges of digitisation: trials with an additional qualification for digital production processes at the behest of the Federal Institute for Career Training; setting up an innovation and transfer network in Baden-Württemberg to implement digitisation in career training; and the realisation of a pilot project in North-Rhine Westphalia involving the implementation of Industry 4.0 and digitisation. In the latter case, 600 training and teaching staff are being trained as multipliers; the second step will be for these additional competences in Industry 4.0 to be passed on to around 1200 trainees.”
Foundation director Bole recommends that firms should also use digital methods in recruiting trainees. “Any firm wishing to attract young people must waken their interest. The use of modern communications media, such as social media channels, is one way of becoming more attractive and addressing potential staff of the future. One must increasingly assume that for digital natives the level of digitisation in the working environment will be a decisive factor. Firms should continue to develop their training in that direction and communicate it using the channels outlined above.”
Cross-competence cooperation is needed
Agile structures require staff from different fields to come together to work on joint projects. At Trumpf, students from the Baden-Württemberg Dual University are already practising this form of collaboration as part of their training. In their first year, they are given the task of developing a product – from the model to design engineering and all the way through to marketing. The learning goal here is to see how the development and marketing of a product work.
The so-called Trumpf Cube, which they are called on to develop, is apparently 30 cm high, long and wide. What function the product ultimately has is left up to the students. They tackle the task in teams of five or six students, drawn from courses in mechatronics, electrical engineering, information science, industrial engineering, and machine construction. The project is divided into two phases: an opening workshop in which each team designs a model cube made of paper, and the second step in which a fully functional prototype is created. Each team is given the same financial resources to do with as they please. “In the project ‘Digital Key Safe’, students spend the money on, for example, small motors to power a gripper arm. At the touch of a button, the gripper arm automatically throws the key out of the cube via a 3D-printed ramp,” Torsten Klaus, in charge of technical training at Trumpf in Ditzingen, tells us, giving a practical example.
People have a key role in the digital age
As early as mid-2018, the WGP (scientific association for production technology) examined the societal consequences of digitisation and networking in German industry. In their position paper “Industrial Workplace 2025”, the authors looked into this development and worked out a new model for analysing the level of automation in industry. It shows where action needs to be taken and with what aim.
“Every industrial revolution, and that is of course how Industry 4.0 is described, is accompanied by enormous societal upheavals,” says Prof. Berend Denkena, President of the WGP and Director of the Institute of Production Technology and Machine Tools (IFW) at Hannover University. “As a working group of German professors of production technology, we want to apply our know-how to help these upheavals to happen as humanely as possible.”
In the conclusion drawn by the position paper, it is stated that both the human being and production technology, in the form of automated systems, will continue to face challenges jointly. The priority is to create an optimum relationship between human work and automated production technology. The developments in digitisation and the resulting changes in levels of automation and autonomy in production systems will, according to the WGP, make new demands on the abilities and skills of production workers. “Besides the increasing demands made on production workers, a central role will be played by the availability of qualified staff with training corresponding to the requirements,” we hear. This, in turn, is influenced by demographics and by the increasingly heterogeneous qualifications available to trainees.
This is a task challenging the whole of society, as is emphasised by both the WGP and Oliver Maassen at Trumpf: “In basic and further training we need even stronger support from our politicians. Digitisation must become a fundamental building block in training, whether in elementary or advanced schools.”
Trumpf, the WGP and the New Generation Foundation for German Machine Building are exhibitors at the EMO in Hannover.
* Dipl. Eng. Annedore Bose-Munde is a specialist author in 99094 Erfurt, tel. (00 49-3 61) 78 94 46 95, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.bose-munde.de