07/01/2022 | Spotlight
A mechanic used to fix my car: one whose blue overalls were stained in oil like the hands in which he routinely carried a long screwdriver to help him prod and probe. These days, he’s a technician in smart fatigues who approaches me with a diagnostic scanner. In future, I may not see him at all, at least not until the robots that have done the diagnostics for him, have shared their findings in the Cloud, ordered the parts, booked me in and allocated relevant resources.
That, at least, will be obvious to the people who use Europe’s roads every day and, if they’re lucky, engage with the automotive industry once a year for their annual service. But it serves as a tangible illustration of the sort of changes being driven in engineering and the industrial world as a whole.
And, to some, the pace of change is slow. The global manufacturing community, according to experts at the World Economic Forum, has until recently been lagging behind in its adoption of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. In the words of a recent report introducing the work of its Global Lighthouse Network. To quote directly: “More than 70 per cent of companies are still stuck in ‘pilot purgatory’, while only a select group of leading manufacturers are able to deploy advanced manufacturing at scale, generating new value and creating customer experiences within the factory or across value chains.”
But they’ve also been quick to point out the pace of change has been stepped up in recent times, introducing new narratives that have been redefining the image of manufacturing, for example, from “dull, dirty and dangerous” to one in which robotics, Cloud, and Edge devices have replaced centralised technologies, not only redefining the process of work but the image of it, something vital if we are to welcome and embrace a new culture for new generations.
And that’s important in terms of attracting new talent and empowering later generations that bring with them, not just the skills, but the instincts needed if companies are to innovate in the way they should in order to accelerate and build on this progress.
“A positive organisational culture of innovation means to motivate employees to embrace change and to be courageous,” according to Prof. Kiessler, who teaches at the innovation hub at the UE new university campus in Potsdam. “It also means that they can be entrepreneurial and bring in their own ideas, without having to fear negative consequences in case of failure. Research shows that millennials find these types of jobs most attractive, and they bring their expectations to their new workplaces.”
He cited the increasingly popular dual study model, in which “students study and work in the same time, and they apply their newly acquired knowledge in real-time in their workplaces. I see a good chance that this could lead to a significant cultural shift in organisations and growth in the medium term.”
It all goes to highlight the importance of apprenticeships, something embraced as part of the development culture in many countries, few of which can match Germany’s model in terms of rigour, collaboration with the likes of government and chambers’ of commerce and the dual benefits for employers and apprentices.
In Germany, many young people enter the labour market via the apprenticeship system. Over 500,000 new apprenticeship contracts are concluded every year. The system developed historically out of medieval guild system, upon the concept of “occupation”.
That collaborative spirit was the key driver behind a new pioneering four-year degree apprenticeship programme from Siemens Digital Industries in the UK which is said to have supercharged the careers of 60 engineers from a range of companies from many sectors, including AstraZeneca, Saint-Gobain Formula and Zeeco Europe. Backed by local colleges and the University of Salford, it uses a block delivery model combining academic modules in automation, robotics, and embedded systems, Siemens S7 Certified PLC programmer training and accreditation, and a workplace project to solve a real-world problem. The outcome is a degreequalified engineer with a range of practical skills and technical understanding needed to capitalise on the opportunities of Industry 4.0. Seven of an earlier intake have so far graduated with a BEng Hons in Control and Automation, and 53 more are set to follow. One of them is Rob Rowson who started his engineering degree apprenticeship with AstraZeneca in 2020. The 20-year-old mountain biking enthusiast was inspired to pursue electrical engineering, following in the footsteps of his dad’s career as an electrician and is now working at AstraZeneca’s facility in Macclesfield and studying in block release for his HNC in Electrical/Electronic Engineering and on target to graduate with a degree in 2024. “From the first moment I stepped into AstraZeneca I knew my chosen path was the right one,” Rob said. “All the study in the world doesn’t prepare you for the thrill of working on-site in such a high tech and fast-moving operation at the cutting-edge of medical innovation. It’s a great feeling when the penny drops and something you’ve studied appears as a real-life problem in front of you. Every day is different and there is a great team around me to help me find my way.”
Emma Worthington, a Vocational Skills Consultant, and David Stirk, Engineering Apprentice Coach, from Siemens Digital Industries, worked closely with partners to develop the programme.
“We started this journey four years ago in a new landscape of apprenticeship standards for which no training provider knew what successful programme would look like,” Emma said. “Our partnership with AstraZeneca, Saint-Gobain Formula and Zeeco Europe has developed a level six industry-relevant qualification. Working closely with managers and automation engineers from all the companies who have committed their apprentices to the programme has been fundamental to its success. Together, we are creating generations of highly qualified engineers ready for the challenges that lie ahead.”
Kim Hardman, UK Apprenticeship Lead at AstraZeneca, said: “Our new Engineering Apprenticeship Programme is developing the technicians and engineers of the future. Engineering apprentices are hugely important, maintaining complex equipment and upholding our high standards for safety, manufacturing quality and documentation, and helping us solve the challenges that can arise with some of the most advanced medical equipment in the world.
“But as well as the key technical skills required now and within the future, the degree apprenticeship programme grows their abilities in crucial complimentary areas like organisation, prioritisation, problem solving techniques, teamwork, communication and presentation”.
Brian Holliday, Managing Director, Siemens Digital Industries, himself a former apprentice, said: “Our programme has helped us reach out to myriad manufacturers, including pharmaceutical, OEM, chemicals, food and drink and even global supply chain leaders, who strive to close in on the skills gap and bring its work force up to speed to use new innovation technologies and automation in their factories.”
There is no shortage of such opportunities all over the world; the internships and career programmes run by the likes of Novartis in India, Takeda in Japan or the talent piplelines of Novo Nordisk in Denmark. From their offices near Copenhagen, they fill most of our internships through those pipelines, even matching positions to educational background and interests and promising candidates will be “immersed in the environment of a global pharmaceutical company and contribute to the line of business by providing sustainable and meaningful project work”.
Gerresheimer, the German medicine packaging and producer of drug delivery devices, have a policy of recruiting “according to need”, so hiring rates among apprentices are nearly 100 per cent. The specialist chemical company, Clariant, stresses its focus on acquiring the expertise that can support its digital future through strategic partnerships with renowned universities and institutions such as the Impact Hub in Basel, and at virtual lectures, tech talks, and working circles.
It insists it is increasingly seeking the so-called hybrid skillset – a combination of digital know- ow and traditional job skills that is challenging to find on the market. At the end of last year it joined forces with the Swiss Chemical Society, to honour four young scientists as sponsors of the Swiss CleanTech Award, awarding first place to Selina Kaiser, a former ETH Zurich student now doing a postdoc at Harvard, for her work on catalysts for the sustainable production of vinyl chloride.
As a further example of how youth is making such contributions, ETH Zurich’s Scott Docherty was given second place for his research on catalysts for the hydrogenation of CO2 to methanol and Ahmed Elabd, University of Fribourg, and Wooseok Yang, of the University of Zurich, were honoured for their achievements in stabilisation of high density batteries and on energy storage, respectively.
Melissa Di Donato, CEO of SUSE, the German-based multinational open-source software company is someone noted for the way she embraces mentoring programmes as a way of changing corporate culture. Di Dinato, also noted as the first woman to take a multibillion-euro company public on the Deutsche Börse in the 21st century, summed it up recently when she wrote: “It’s so critical to empower the younger generation with the conviction to believe in themselves. This is not limited to those still in school but can extend to those already in or just entering the workforce.”
She went on to add that as a society, we are “stronger and more resilient when we embrace diversity of thought and in all of its borderless, magnificent forms”. This includes diversity in age within the workplace, she said: “By mentoring and growing the next generation of talent, the entire enterprise tech ecosystem will benefit from fresh ideas and perspectives.”
A recent report by the tech company, HR Cloud, estimated that the average age of workers in the construction industry is 42.5 years, meaning that particular workforce will be in urgent need of new blood within the next 20. They quote a study estimating that by 2025, 75 per cent of the global workforce will be made up of millennials – and neither they nor the Gen Z’ers find jobs in construction companies appealing. But the findings also gave clues as to the solution: as many as 91 percent of Gen Z employees report that they would be more attracted to organisations using sophisticated technology.
Up-to-date technology infrastructure is important. And organisations using substandard technology are likely to actually repel 42 per cent of millennials. Eleven apprentices from Meitingen and six from Bonn completed their vocational training at SGL Carbon this spring with “excellent” exam results, demonstrating the firm’s commitment to ongoing initiatives.
In Meitingen, training manager Uwe Moderer and his fellow instructors congratulated the junior staff on their results at the end of their training as industrial mechanics, machining mechanics, mechatronics engineers, process mechanics as well as chemical laboratory assistants. In the commercial field, two industrial clerks were extremely successful in their final examinations at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
Meanwhile, in Bonn, site manager Robert Michels and the company’s HR Manager Nicole Nelles, joined trainers and the works council to congratulate their intake on their new qualifications as industrial and machining mechanics and electronics technicians.
On numbers alone, the Millennial and Generation Z workforce looks set to have a massive influence. And that means companies have to adapt to accommodate them, according to experts. Dragos Badea, CEO of Romanian start-up Yarooms, says they are aware of their bargaining power in a sparce recruitment market so pay will be an issue. British health insurer Bupa says one in three would reject a role with poor ESG and the US Center for Generational Kinetics says they won’t tolerate long application processes. The Pew Research Center found that eight in ten would quit if their employer didn’t commit to diversity. As for conditions, Allianz in Germany found that they hate the idea of working in open offices.
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