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Shortage of Young Talent in Germany Generation Y and Z Seek Meaning in Their Work

From Nicole Kareta

In the midst of the climate debate, the foundry industry is still associated with smelly cars, air pollution and the diesel fraud scandal. Yet millennials are focusing on innovative strength and sustainability like no generation before.

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With urban mobility changing, lightweight constructions become increasingly important. Young people flock to innovative technologies and sustainable solutions. The casting industry could attract new talents if it manages to make their contribution visible.
With urban mobility changing, lightweight constructions become increasingly important. Young people flock to innovative technologies and sustainable solutions. The casting industry could attract new talents if it manages to make their contribution visible.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Unsplash)

As baby boomers retire, the shortage of skilled workers in Germany will intensify. "The force of this social upheaval will hit companies hard in the next five years," Frank Böhringer of the Demography Network told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. At the same time, around one-third of the 600 companies belonging to the Federal Association of the German Foundry Industry are already complaining of a labor shortage. The industry is finding it difficult to compete with other sectors when it comes to attracting young talent. Why is that? Gérôme Fuchs, Specialist Talent Development & Employer Branding in the Human Resources Department of GF Casting Solutions talks about this with Prof. Martin Fehlbier, who heads the Foundry Technology Department at the Institute of Production Technology and Logistics in the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of the University of Kassel.

Fuchs: It is difficult to find junior staff at various production sites. Even positions in research and development often cannot be filled immediately. By contrast, we generally fill all our trainee positions. I consider us to be an attractive employer, but the changes in the industry also bring uncertainties. That's why we don't always fill all the positions we advertise.

Prof. Fehlbier: In a university career, we are invited to fall in love with the materials and their manufacturing processes in a certain way and thus build up a relationship with them. Then you get really good at what you want to do. But getting young people excited about it has become more difficult. Nothing against sociology or medicine. But I think that sometimes certain fears are stirred up in advance in relation to other disciplines. "Are you top-notch in math, physics and thermodynamics? No? Then you don't stand a chance here at the university." Such statements don't help and scare off many. This behavior needs to change, I sometimes see this here with people who probably want to present themselves. Here, I like to give consideration to "All big fish were once small" or "One grows with one's tasks."

The number of women in STEM professions has increased by 23.3 percent since the end of 2012 . Mr. Fuchs, how do you attract women as employees?

Fuchs: The women who are employed by our company should network and form a community. For example, we host workshops and guest lectures that cover topics such as self-marketing or successful negotiations. The industry is probably more male-dominated. But the question remains: Where do we need to start in order to attract more women to the industry and our company in the long term?

Prof. Fehlbier: We are also constantly thinking about how we can target, attract and promote women even better in the university environment. There are now many offers for this. These range from special Girls Days to present the engineering degree programs, the Hessian mentoring programs ProCareer.MINT and ProAcademia for the targeted promotion and networking of young female scientists in their studies, doctoral studies and beyond, to support offers for a better compatibility of family and career, e.g. by childcare. Nevertheless, the proportion of women in mechanical engineering is still just under 20 percent.

Marius Kohlhepp said in the previous part of this series: The major role that casting plays for electric vehicles has not yet arrived in people's minds. How do you perceive that?

Fuchs: In my experience, people in the foundry industry are passionate and know what they are creating. But not everyone sees that. E-mobility has also brought a huge boost in attention. That was not the case a few years ago.

Prof. Fehlbier: I admire companies like Intel, who with their "Intel Inside" campaign have managed to publicize what you don't see at all. Casting also has this problem. Cast parts are often hidden behind plastic, for example in engine components in cars. People get up in the morning, turn on the heating, take a shower, and ride in some form or other - be it a streetcar, car or bicycle - to their place of work and do not even notice which innovative castings they have used. Unfortunately, this attention is still too often lacking in the casting industry.

Fuchs: Job descriptions in the foundry industry are associated with the adjectives loud, dirty and hot.

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Prof. Fehlbier: When I started, the course was still called "Hüttenkunde", referring to iron and steel works. It was renamed quite quickly because it sounded somehow backward and was also often associated with environmental pollution. But of course we also have a current image problem, especially in the climate debate: smelly cars, air pollution, the diesel fraud scandal are common associations. Yet in many foundries today, you can practically eat off the floor, surrounded by computer technology.

Fuchs: Nevertheless, working conditions are considered poor by outsiders. For the time being, the industry does not look attractive, also with a view to the future. Nowadays, innovation and sustainability are required.

Prof. Fehlbier: Exactly. But we can't continue to consume the resources on our planet so drastically. That would be very foolish. And more and more young people are realizing this. Anyone who starts working in the foundry industry today is not part of the problem but becomes a significant part of the solution. The foundry industry in particular offers outstanding recycling potential, for example. The industry is changing and we have great opportunities here.

Fuchs: Yes. In the search for young talent, our active contribution to more sustainable mobility helps us. Generation Y and Z are looking for meaning in their work and want to identify with their profession.

Prof. Fehlbier: Spending a lifetime doing just one thing will no longer work for the next generation. Young people no longer remain trapped in a single field. Today, they are very good at using laptops and modern computer programs, but also innovative manufacturing technologies and materials, and are therefore very flexible. They want to make a difference.

Fuchs: Lightweight construction in particular is certainly interesting for the next generation. It was Tesla that first brought the topic back into the mainstream. That is impressive. All the others, like BMW and Audi, are laggards. From my point of view, it may well be that Tesla is making the foundry industry more attractive.

Just recently, VW CEO Herbert Diess invited Elon Musk to his executive conference. What importance do you attach to the Tesla boss within the foundry industry?

Prof. Fehlbier: Tesla is a Gyro Gearloose and marketing genius in many areas, not just in large-scale structural casting with its mega-castings on giga-machines. In the beginning, Elon Musk was often laughed at, along the lines of "Let him do his thing," but by now no one is laughing anymore. He brings with him a completely new, free way of thinking, plus the advantage of starting fresh. Musk is not involved in constraints and processes like many others with traditional production facilities. He is breaking new ground and very cleverly embedding his e-cars in a sophisticated IT environment; the e-car is the new cell phone on wheels, and it is also environmentally friendly, which appeals to young people in particular. And what it conveys in a fresh way, especially for our foundry industry, is that casting is great and there is still plenty of room for completely new innovations. As a company, Tesla also advertises research goals internationally and gives awards to student teams. The winners are then invited and can present their results on site. To my knowledge, there is nothing comparable from German OEMs yet.

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