Getting Ready for the Big Changes Ahead

Anyone talking about sustainability in the context of business should also think about the topic of training. For a global player such as ZF, recruiting and retaining highly qualified employees are essential for continuing to deliver top quality.

Text: Lars Weitbrecht , 06. March, 2018

Lars Weitbrecht originally comes from the music and gaming industry, but in addition to holding a game pad or guitar in his hand, he also enjoys the power of the pen and the feel of the steering wheel.

The competition for the future of the automotive industry is well underway. If we want to keep pace with trends in digitalization, automated driving and electromobility, we need to train our employees properly – and we need to do this worldwide. That’s why ZF is already laying the foundation for its global quality promise in the area of education and training. After completing their training, young people just starting their careers will most likely stay with the company for several years as skilled workers. For ZF, this means formulating new requirements for employees at an early stage, aligning training content accordingly and setting standards. Read three examples here from Germany, Slovakia and the U.S.

Germany: Updating a classic that sets standards worldwide

The German dual education and training system enjoys a very good reputation around the world. To keep it this way, HR managers and policymakers alike are dealing with an important question: How does digitalization influence existing job profiles and their training content? Stefan Haas, head of the “Training 4.0” initiative

ZF already launched the “Training 4.0” project two years ago. Among other things, the project members worked on identifying the vocational training careers of the future and determined which new content should be integrated into the existing training.

ZF sets high training standards for its employees so that the company can continue to offer its customers utmost quality worldwide. Because digitalization and global networking have an impact on the factory floor, today's skilled workers need additional language skills and intercultural competence. Being able to deal with digital media is also part of the toolbox.

For this reason ZF is investing heavily in new and updated training concepts as well as in state-of-the-art equipment for its training centers.

The training center of the ZF plant in Saarbrücken prepares young people for getting started in their career.

Slovakia: Those getting started in their careers are training in their own centers

In Slovakia, the automotive sector has grown so rapidly over the last decade that trade schools have been unable to meet the demand for skilled workers. Slovakia first adopted a dual education and training system in 2015. With four locations in Slovakia, ZF was one of the first companies to support this training system. In 2016, as part of its commitment, the company set up new training centers in Trnava and Levice. Prospective cutting machine operators, toolmakers, machine operators, electronic technicians and others are now learning on state-of-the-art machines and equipment.

They bone up on theory at one of three local vocational schools with whom the centers cooperate with. Depending on the expert department, the traineeship takes either three or four years. Apprentices alternate between the school desk and the work bench on a weekly basis. In 2016, 51 apprentices began a dual education and training program at ZF Slovakia, and just a year later, the number rose to 67.

USA: Michigan’s flagship

There was a shortage of skilled workers at the beginning of this decade in the U.S. state of Michigan as well. The economic crisis had just eased, but the automotive and industrial metropolis of Detroit had gone bankrupt. Highly skilled technicians were leaving the city in droves. ZF also felt this at its locations in Michigan.

Rick Snyder, acting Governor of Michigan since 2011, knew the dual education system from Germany. He wanted to implement a similar concept in Michigan. So ZF, the state of Michigan and other partners joined forces to establish the “Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program” (MAT²). MAT² sets standards for skilled worker training programs that last three years – almost a year longer than comparable U.S. training programs.

The program is now seen as a flagship project in Michigan and beyond. Participants in MAT² receive wages from the start. In exchange, graduates commit to staying at ZF for at least two years after completing the program. The number of young professionals trained according to MAT² at the three locations in Northville, Lapeer and Fenton in the U.S. state of Michigan is increasing from year to year. This chosen path is a win-win situation for companies and for employees, thus representing an investment in the future.

“By training with ZF, I was able to get not just my qualification but also professional experience while I was studying. That’s not very common in the U.S.”

Austin Cronin, mechatronics technician at ZF in Northville, Michigan, who completed the MAT² program.