FA 01 Valve World Expo 2014 in Düsseldorf

„Professionals urgently wanted“ –a cry for help is being heard all around the world. Scarcity of professional, well-trained co-workers is endangering the ability of companies to perform. Any company’s capacity for innovation is at risk, even entire economies. What can be done?

Not all things were better back in the day, yet one thing definitely was: „A couple of years ago, finding people to fill vacancies wasn’t a problem at all“, remembers Petra Kappelhoff-Woestmann, CEO of Axa Maschinen und Armaturen GmbH & Co. KG. Unfortunately, this is a thing of the past.

Filling vacancies “is becoming increasingly difficult and, for a company like ours, also increasingly dangerous, as we depend on skilled workers and professionals.“ Several vacancies remain unfilled at the current moment, emphasises the CEO of the company based in Schoeppingen, Germany.


Staffing shortages already today
Numerous valve makers are experiencing the same pains as Axa Maschinen und Armaturen. „Today, there already are serious staffing shortages“, warns Dr. Hannes Hesse, president of German Engineering Federation VDMA. Federations in lots of countries are also complaining about the situation.

Germany’s mechanical and plant engineering sector alone is searching for 7.000 engineers and qualified technicians. A study named „Skills shortage 2012“ authored by personnel consultancy Manpower Group underscores the perilous development. According to the study, 42 per cent of German companies are currently having problems finding professional staff – eight per cent more than the worldwide average.

The largest problem for companies is finding skilled employees in the areas skilled manual labour and engineers. Manpower Group sees no recovery: „There is a shortage of apprentices for trades – and the amount of engineering vacancies remaining unfilled has nearly doubled in the period from 2010 to 2012.”

Mechanical engineering and vehicle manufacturing are the most affected, with nearly 37.000 vacancies remaining unfilled.

Company profits are taking a hit due to the arduous search for skilled labour. „Average vacancy periods of 55 days across the bank and up to 90 days for technical trades result in losses worth billions of euro each year for the German economy“, claims Vera Calasan, CEO of Manpower Group.


Intelligent immigration concept
A fatal situation for any company serving the worldwide market, and one requiring a great effort. „In the long run, we can only survive competition in the international market if we have the best minds. Adjusting a single screw just won’t be enough“, states VDMA president Hesse.

What is there to be done? One part of the VDMA’s strategy is foreign labour. „In the least, they can relieve the shortage.“ This is why the federation demands the German government to develop an intelligent concept for immigration. Germany’s Federal Labour Market Authority Bundesagentur für Arbeit already wants to recruit qualified staff from countries hit hard by the euro debt crisis. Thousands remain unemployed in such countries.

In addition, an education offensive is required, “a measure long called for”, states Hesse. Children and youths need to be introduced to solving technical problems and natural sciences already during kindergarten and school. „And it is simply inacceptable that we lose nearly every second mechanical engineering student somewhere between the first-year and the final exams.“


Employees important in times of crisis
In times of crisis, such as the euro crisis currently being experienced, the quality of employees makes itself felt. „As a basic requirement for flexibility, a company needs a good capital base and a motivated, communicative and dependable staff“, underlines Dr. Jens Reppenhagen, CEO of RS Roman Seliger Armaturenfabrik. It would also be desirable if the government would create general conditions for competitive companies and give them support. Next to finances, the main topic here is education.

Reppenhagen: „Only knowledge and creativity will help us remain a leading industrial nation based on value creation in the international arena.“

Solving problems is not simply left to the governments alone. Federations and companies themselves are on the offensive. German mechanical engineering association Förderkreis Strömungsmaschinen Kaiserslautern e.V. for instance is targeting future engineers. The association arranges company visits, lectures and excursions, serving as an intermediary between companies and students.

Students are supported through donations, including scholarships and by giving prizes for final theses and term papers.


Scholarships and internships
Valve association Armaturenkompetenz Ruhr has tasked itself with giving qualified and motivated students both financial and educational support. After its premiere two years ago, a scholarship for two terms was awarded in 2012 to a student studying an engineering course at a university situated in the Ruhrgebiet. „Having fun solving technical challenges and especially proactiveness are characteristic for scholarship students“, explains the association.

In addition, Armaturenkompetenz, consisting of companies Böhmer, Bomafa Armaturen, Herberholz, Klaus Union and Zwick Armaturen, offers an internship of at least three months in one of the member companies. The association also understands itself as a platform for the overall implementation of industrial valves.


Modernising a conservative image
Sometimes, companies also go down strange paths. MIT (Moderne Industrietechnik) chose such a path in order to recruit new blood. The company’s marketing strategists based in Vlotho-Exter made use of a creative and appealing campaign: The protagonists in the campaign of the supplier for system solutions, components and special-purpose valves are infants younger than two years old, who are placed in an amusing contrast to jobs typical for mechanical engineering.

Regional public tv station WDR accompanied the photo shooting. A mix of modern and traditional media, such as Facebook, Youtube, radio and newspapers was utilised, „which mesh together in various ways and reach the target group of young people over different channels“. The campaign was designed to „spark young people’s interest for mechanical engineering and modernise the rather conservative image of our profession“, says Benjamin Kowsky, a marketing assistant at MIT.

KSB AG is very active in promoting young talents. The maker of valves and pumps places great emphasis on close cooperation with both schools and universities. Internships, projects and a dual study programme belong to the company’s concept for the future. KSB, as well as other companies, are also trying to get women more strongly interested in technical jobs.

There still is a strong lack of women, declares the Association of German Engineers VDI: Merely 21 per cent of engineering students are women, and only twelve per cent of people in technical professions are female. „That simply is not enough. We are giving away a large and important potential if we can’t manage to enthuse more girls and young women for the technical sector”, states VDI president Dr. Willi Fuchs.


Role models inspire women
It was therefore time for the VDI to launch a project. The new project MINTalente (MINTalents), supported by a German federal ministry, aims to increase the number of women studying MINT subjects, paving the way for a technical or scientific career. MINT subjects a mathematics, computer science (called Informatik in German), natural sciences and technology.

The campaign focuses on successful women: Ranging from electrical engineering students to CEOs, there are over 370 female role models in the whole of Germany to inspire women for jobs in the MINT-sector. They talk about daily life as a student or in their job, describe their career and provide useful tips or how to get a foot in the door during lectures and workshops.

„The project supports all those wishing to organise an event aimed at advancing women’s interest for MINT jobs“, explains project director Tina Lackmann. The result is rather impressive: According to the VDI, the project reached an audience of 75.000 in the last two years, 45.000 of which were women.

Sparking enthusiasm in women for technical jobs is a matter of utmost importance, if one takes note of the development in the coming years. „In no other European country are so many older engineers in the job market as in Germany“, worries VDI president Fuchs.

„As a result, a high number of engineers will depart from the labour force.“ If measures currently underway aren’t successful, the country’s ability to innovate will suffer. A fatal development, as sectors with a high amount of engineers invest 73 billion euro annually in R&D to produce innovative products. „If we can’t end the shortage of engineers, then the continuing shortage will become a grave and serious danger for Germany’s business model“, stresses Dr. Hans-Peter Klös, director of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW).

Older employees: a great potential
Investing in education, recruiting people from EU countries hit by the crisis and enthusing women for technical professions are all good approaches to solve the problem. Yet there is another, increasingly important strategy – namely making use of older employees.

A factor ignored for a long time. In the past, there was a simple principle: Old employees leave the company and become pensioners, new and young employees are recruited. As a consequence, over half of German companies employ staff younger than 50 - exclusively.

KSB AG made out the opportunity offered by recruiting older employees quite some time ago. The valve and pump maker’s idea and its implementation was recognised as an example of good practice by the Rhineland-Palatinate ministry of economics, traffic, agriculture and winegrowing.

„KSB AG cannot do without the comprehensive knowledge of older employees in sight of products, markets and customers, as well as their experience, loyalty and dexterity, just as the company cannot do without the youthful enthusiasm and fresh ideas of young talents. Both is needed to remain successful in the market,” declared the ministry.

The company based in Frankenthal puts an emphasis on retaining older employees. Measures include health checks, special computer training, additional leave days and exoneration from night shifts. Old and young employees are coupled in a timely manner to create succession plans. KSB AG shows the worth of holding each other in high esteem.

In order to retain experienced specialists, the company strengthens comradeship, satisfaction and emphasises thinking as a team. The company also makes sure there is no friction between job and family life. All of these are important signals to the world outside, aiding the company in recruiting additional engineers and skilled workers.

Companies are strongly advised to develop concepts for supporting and recruiting young talents. If one misses out, one will find oneself punished by a continued lack of skilled and capable staff. This is something no technology company can afford.

Valve World Expo will take place for the third time from December 2- 4, 2014 at Düsseldorf fairgrounds.