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Engineers from the pool


How the automotive industry might be able to recover its junior staff during hard times.

Engineers from the pool© Uni Duisburg-EssenProf. Dr. Ferdinand Dudenhöffer teaches business management at the University of Duisburg-Essen and is also the Director of the CAR Center for Automotive Research.
Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, your Center for Automotive Research (CAR) has just published a new study. This shows the disastrous consequences that the automotive industry is suffering due to making its personnel policy dependent on the economy.

During the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, the automotive industry severely put the brakes on its personnel programme in order to save money. It paid little attention to appointing qualified junior staff. Now, as the economy picks up, the approx. 900 automotive suppliers in particular are being left behind because they do not have a new generation of managers. And this is causing the whole industry to suffer, because the suppliers are responsible for around 60 percent of the innovations in the automotive industry. The development chain has therefore been broken.

Things are looking good then for engineers just graduating from university.

Yes, at the moment they are in short supply - and therefore much in demand. But students of engineering sciences can never be sure that it will stay that way. A year ago the situation was different. I'm worried that this good-times-bad-times recruiting policy will start to affect new students' choice of subject: why should someone be interested in an industry that only appoints new recruits when it is on the up?

What are the consequences of this constant up and down for vehicle manufacture?

Serious. My research shows that, if the new generation comes straight from university with little training, this threatens the growth of the whole industry in the long term. One of the consequences of this short-sighted personnel policy is the lack of skilled labour that everyone is currently complaining about.

What would be a possible solution?

My idea is to gather university graduates in a graduate pool when times are hard. This could break the pig cycle.

What do you envisage exactly?

All companies pay into a joint fund from which university graduates can then be assigned in difficult times to those SMEs that are struggling most due to the lack of new blood. These might for example receive 50 percent of the personnel costs for half a year from the joint fund. This could function very similarly to the short-time work funded by the government - except in this case the industry is helping itself.

The President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), Matthias Wissmann, rejects the idea of a jointly financed pool. It does not fit with the image of a globally competitive industry, he says.

That doesn't surprise me. But the VDA represents almost exclusively large car manufacturers and suppliers and does not speak for SMEs. Which is all the more reason why the pool idea needs more supporters from the political sphere.

DIE ZEIT ::17.02.2011