As the automotive industry changes, OEMs and Tier suppliers need to train and retain skilled work forces. 

Audi apprenticeship

Audi takes on approximately 800 apprentices at its two sites in Germany in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm each year

Optimising production processes is a never-ending task for vehicle makers and while automation offers some solutions, some of the biggest gains can be made from having a highly skilled workforce. Training is a key to this, and never more so as digital processes and systems become more important.

Dieter Omert, head of Audi’s vocational training and specialist competence development offered some insight into the OEM’s training culture and discussed how advances in production technologies have made an impact on how the company recruits and trains new employees.

“For us, “Vorsprung durch Technik” means creating an optimal combination of humans and machines in a factory of the future and innovative technologies can support the employees with their increasingly complex work. Human-robot cooperation is exemplary here. Intelligent robots can take over monotonous, highly repetitive routines in the area of production. Our employees with their specialised know-how will be responsible for the value-adding part of the work.

“For example, in production requirements have risen with regard to IT competences, so in 2015, Audi introduced vocational training in informatics with system integration as a specialty. After completing these courses, the qualified employees then work in close conjunction with the mechatronics in car production. To facilitate collaboration between mechatronics and informatics specialists, the informatics training course includes an additional qualification as an electrician. This expands the potential fields of work for the young informatics experts and reflects the increased requirements placed on the dual system of training in a digitised working environment. A special aspect of the additional qualification is that previously, the areas of responsibility of IT specialists and electronics specialists were separate. This separation no longer exists, because IT experts’ work no longer ends in front of the control box. They are now able to solve more complex tasks much more efficiently.

“The company has also specifically increased the number of mechatronics trainees. At Audi, that is now the apprenticeship with the most participants. The training includes the handling, maintenance and programming of modern production equipment and production robots. The trainees use tools such as tablet computers to control equipment, simulate mistakes and find solutions.”

Investing for the future

To achieve this Audi has invested in its training operation as Omert explains: “All of the skills taught in training and further training have been brought together at the company’s own “Audi Academy.” This ensures close intermeshing between the numerous areas of training and qualification at the company and is internationally networked with all business units at all of our locations. But we also focus on the exchange of opinions and experience with external training experts and universities, as well as with the other further-training facilities at the Volkswagen Group.

“In order to develop and expand appropriate specialised competences for the future, Audi has also set up so-called area academies in all areas of the company. The special contents of training courses there range from procurement to logistics and to electrical and electronics development. Many courses impart compact and practical knowledge. In this context, Audi experts from various departments are active as internal instructors.” [sam_ad id=17 codes='true']

A multi-skilling approach

Multi-skilling production operatives has become an important part of training programmes in the automotive sector and Omert offered Audi’s take on this.

“Agile working methods are an important element of the Audi working world. The training plan therefore also includes creative methods such as design thinking and scrum.

In 2015, Audi introduced a concept for mobile and digital learning in vocational training. This makes comprehensive use of tablet computers as a learning aid. With the mobile learning concept, we not only encourage the young participants’ individual responsibility and creativity, but also places a special focus on IT and media competence. With the help of tablet computers, the trainees can access knowledge whenever they need it – irrespective of place and time. Their digital assistant eases the combination of theoretical and practical learning material, as the tablet computer is always at hand. The trainees can learn alone or in small groups, at all of our sites in Germany and around the world. An internal review has shown that the new concept enhances the trainees’ motivation and learning success.”

Tier supplier

With Tier suppliers facing similar recruitment and training challenges, AMS spoke to Mariyana Mihaylova, HR officer at Tier supplier Pailton Engineering, a company that has had some success developing the careers of its apprentices.

“We don’t have a set yearly intake of trainees, but we current have two people in the first year of their apprenticeship with Midland Group Training Services (MGTS). Once they finish this first year they will start training with us. In their second and third years they will gain experience in each section of the production operation and will be allocated a mentor in each of these areas who will monitor their progress. During the second year they spend about a month in each rotation.

“This plan gives us flexibility, so if an apprentice shows an interest or aptitude for a particular area of the operation we discuss their preferences and in their third year they will most likely be allocated more time in that area. We obviously have staffing requirements as a company, but we work with the apprentices to develop their careers and help them achieve their future goals.”

Pailton takes a hands-on approach when training apprentices Pailton takes a hands-on approach when training apprentices

When recruiting beyond apprentices to fill vacancies or increase staff levels to meet demand it can be a challenge to find people with right skill sets especially those needed to take up positions on the shopfloor. Mihaylova noted: “It can be hard to find people who have experience with exactly the same machinery. Some of the equipment we use is more complex and it can be hard to find operators with the required skill levels for these areas.”

Mihaylova explained that beyond mandatory health and safety and company induction training, Pailton adopt a flexible approach to training new employees that’s adapted depending on the individual’s skills and experience and the area they are working in. “Every employee has on-the-job training, which includes coaching and mentoring. They will have a ‘buddy’ working with them helping to get them up to speed with equipment and processes”.

Asked about the provision of training facilities at Pailton, Mihaylova pointed out that for their operations a hands-on, on-the-job approach was more effective and practical than trying to teach the process in a class room. “It’s not just the equipment, the industry is continually changing with greater expectations in terms of quality and productivity. So, training on the shopfloor is a continuous process for us, ensuring the workforce have the right skills. We believe training our workforce and improving skill levels is one of our most important investments,” she added.

To keep pace with a fast-changing industry Pailton has also introduced a multi-skilling approach to its workforce training. The idea being that an individual has the skills to be able to perform more than one production task, thus creating a very flexible operation. “It works for both the employee, making them feel more valued and the company, that can utilise their skills more effectively,” explained Mihaylova.

Training matrix

As part of this Pailton has developed a training matrix to identify skills gaps. Mihaylova explains: "We started this employee development strategy last year and the purpose of it was to identify any training gaps and needs. We work to improve and update our employees’ skills all the time and this assessment helped us in identifying those skills gaps in order to improve performance, employee satisfaction and put in place a proactive training approach.

The first phase was updating all of our job specifications. This helped us adapt the job requirements with the current skills assets. Shortly after, we commenced very detailed update of the skills matrix.

The next phase was to compare the skills matrix and job specifications in order to identify those gaps. This way we measured the current skills with the skills that the business needed.

The last phase was to extract those gaps in the skills and identify the training that needed to be completed. In conclusion, there were several recommendations and we put some employees to training courses. Now we can ensure that we have the right people in the right place.”