WORK 4.0

Meeting the Demand for a Sure Future

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A worker at Wittenstein scans a bar code - it is part of the move to a more digital workplace. Source: DPA

When German car parts supplier Continental posted the job for “automotive software developer”, the results were lackluster – there weren’t enough qualified specialists in the labor market. So instead of taking subpar candidates, the company decided to create a program that will train 30 people to do the job within three years.

Applicants should have experience, said the group, though not necessarily a university degree. Continental is out to prove that a university education is not necessary. “With the new training program, we are laying the foundations to provide targeted training for new talent in this fast-growing area,” Ariane Reinhart, a Continental board member, said.

Like many German companies, Continental is struggling to find the talent it requires for its business to take part in the digital revolution. Digitalization is changing production, processes and tasks, leading to a dilemma for businesses. While jobs are being lost in many areas because they are becoming automated, there is a shortage of specialists in other fields. Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a digital summit at the beginning of this week that it was “of the greatest importance” to have enough IT specialists in Germany. The current deficit runs into tens of thousands.

Businesses are doing their best to offer additional training, but have yet to find a unified approach that would ensure the future for millions of workers.

“If the government doesn’t want to invest and employees cannot be retrained, companies may have to let go of some workers.”

Christian Illek, Head of HR at Deutsche Telekom

In November of last years, employment minister Andrea Nahles presented the “White Paper on Work 4.0” as the result of extensive talks with employers, academics and trade union representatives. However, the Social Democratic Party politician was unable to obtain the support of the ruling Christian Democratic Union, and her attempt to give companies more freedom in organizing working hours failed. All further decisions have been postponed until after Germany’s parliamentary elections in September. So now the minister is pushing to have the paper as part of her party’s election platform.

“My goal for the next term is to have a right to training that works and isn’t just on paper,” Ms. Nahles said. She added that while the government could adjust the legal framework, companies and trade unions would be responsible for the actual restructuring of the workplace. Her priority is to ensure that employees do not become jobless in the first place and that they can continue training while in employment.

But businesses aren’t interested in waiting for the next government. “If the government doesn’t want to invest and employees cannot be retrained, companies may have to let go of some workers in order to take on new employees who are qualified for the future,” warned Christian Illek, head of HR at German telecoms group Deutsche Telekom.

16 p17 Winners and Losers of Digitization-01

“Workers who lose their jobs because of economic change need more effective support, to steer them away from sectors that are in decline and towards sectors in which new jobs are being created,” a report by economists from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development said. The report said that in certain fields, more than 75 percent of tasks will fall victim to automation. This will affect around 9 percent of jobs across all industrialized nations, and about 12 percent of jobs in countries like Germany.

In Germany, politicians and companies see retraining employees as an investment in, not just the employee’s future, but also in the future of the business. The attitude here is markedly different to that of the US, where the onus is on employees to obtain the qualifications they need to ensure they stay employed.

But what retraining for the digital future would involve is not clear. : “We urgently need new ways to supplement traditional company training. We need to get away from the classic four to eight days of professional development a year,” said Mr. Illek.

Alain Dehaze, head of Adecco, the world’s largest employment agency, is also calling for the training provided by companies and the state to be tailored more closely to what businesses actually need.

“Most companies have recognized the need for further training,” said Thorsten Petry, professor of organization and personnel management at the Rhein-Main University of Applied Sciences. However, he added, suitable formats were required. “Employees who have been in the workplace for decades can’t just go back to school. We need appropriate services that will motivate them, including digital services.”

German automation expert Festo has set up a small training factory next to its production facilities, which workers can use to familiarize themselves with new problems. “We gear it strongly towards hands-on practice,” said Klaus Zimmermann, head of sales, training and consulting. Solutions that are found can be transferred directly to production. “The training factory thus becomes a driver of innovation for the real factory.”

“Employees who have been in the workplace for decades can't just go back to school.”

Thorsten Petry, professor, Rhein-Main University of Applied Sciences

German media group Bertelsmann is focusing on online platforms like Peoplenet, which offers around 10,000 online training courses. The company also offers IT training courses in cooperation with Google and Udacity, an online training platform in which Bertelsmann owns a stake.

Almost 91 percent of employees at German software company SAP used at least one training service last year. “Training is essential for us to succeed in a dynamic environment with knowledge-based work,” said Cawa Younosi, head of HR at SAP in Germany. The group invested around €140 million ($156 million) in training in 2016.

Energy giant E.ON spends an average of €811 per employee on training. Each employee spent an average of 1.7 days on training courses in 2016. To distribute training expenditure more efficiently, the group introduced a skills model under the name “grow@E.ON” last year. This summarizes the skills that employees need across all departments and countries, with the aim of clarifying expectations and highlighting the concrete training measures that are required.

At the German branch of management consultancy AT Kearney, consultants are schooled in “soft” skills by coaches and receive regular training. The firm also expects them to gain external experience, so employees spend several months at a time at start-ups and industrial companies.

But Martin Eisenhut, head of AT Kearney in Germany, believes the problem can’t be solved without the support of the government. “We can no longer afford to train the next generation with a pen and notebook. The central government and states need to end their federalist parochialism and finally invest massively in the training of teachers and in technical equipment for all schools and universities.”


Ina Karabasz is an editor at Handelsblatt’s companies and markets team, covering telecommunications, IT and security issues. Bert Fröndhoff leads a team of reporters which covers the chemicals, health care and services industries. Donata Riedel covers economic policy. To contact the authors:

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