By Anke Henrich
Martina Zimmermann is Head of Personnel Development at Gebr. Heller Maschinenfabrik GmbH from Nürtingen. Founded in 1894, the company has about 3,000 members of staff and produces machine tools and manufacturing systems for metalworking. Heller organizes the training of its employees - who have an average age of 45 - via a cloud-based IT platform. The qualifications of all employees are entered there which are then used to analyze each individual’s need for training. For their part, the employees can use the platform to access all learning opportunities offered by the company and soon also by cooperating external partners. The solution is also used as a communication and collaboration tool.
Ms. Zimmermann, the problem is a familiar one to companies with a workforce that has grown over many years: Staff training does not always meet the ever-increasing requirements. To address this, you have launched the knowledge platform at Heller. Where did you get the idea from?
From another company, I already knew of a similar tool developed by a Danish provider since 2008. Unfortunately, it was not an economic success for the Danes. I fear that around ten years ago, they were too early with their idea of a cloud-based knowledge pool that is accessible for employees, the HR department and external training providers.
What has changed since then?
Digitalization: This sets new requirements for all employees at all levels, both in production and in the internal business processes. As a result, the wish of the company to provide more training meets the increasing demand from employees and we are therefore putting it in place quickly and effectively.
In a brochure, the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has rated your model as excellent - so how exactly does it work?
It is an SAP-based cloud solution for personnel development. Through this, the employees have access to all offerings, regardless of whether they are eLearning courses or events to be attended in person. From a strategic point of view, we are relying on cooperation with external training providers that can make their offerings available via our platform.
During the next stage, the aim is to make the platform available to other small and medium-sized enterprises in the region. This will allow the regional training requirements and the offerings needed to cover this to be coordinated in real time. But using the platform for training is only the beginning.
We want to continuously expand this IT tool so that we can use it to manage more and more HR issues such as training profiles or onboarding processes.
Were your employees concerned that the company could also use the new transparency regarding their level of training to exert pressure or facilitate dismissals in the future?
This is an important point and is precisely why we got the works council on board right from the beginning. Data access is subject to the same strict legal regulations as anywhere else in an HR department. The data on the platform is protected and all interfaces are secure. But the amount of technical work and time required to implement this should certainly not be underestimated. You also need a great deal of patience to build up such a platform: It will take two to three years to integrate all the offerings.
In your region you are competing with leading technological companies such as Bosch and Daimler for specialist staff. Will the platform help you in this?
It is a great help in staying competitive as an employer. After all, our employees want the same training opportunities as their colleagues at these corporations. Young potential employees want to know how they will stay up to date professionally and technically. Of course, we do not have the resources of large corporations, so our goal is to provide quality and flexibility. Companies that do not invest in training are faced with serious problems due to the growing demands put upon applicants and employees.
One problem when it comes to further training is that the most committed colleagues are the first to take advantage, while some who would especially benefit hesitate the longest. How do you solve this difficult situation?
It is not actually that difficult. We have initiated a mandatory process for all employees: They have a meeting with their boss on the subject of qualification and further training every fall. Of course, this is explicitly separate from the discussions on performance assessments and payments that take place early in the year. This decoupling of the two issues has relaxed the atmosphere.
Would voluntary training be sufficient, or are you concentrating on mandatory training?
We still use this option for several seminars and events, such as communication training for project managers, workshops on the new management model or information events for purchasing staff. Training on data protection is mandatory for all employees. On top of that, the Heller code of conduct and corporate governance will also be on the agenda in 2020.
We have one last question: Does the training platform pay off financially?
The annual budget was not increased to accommodate the platform; we now balance the costs differently. At the same time, our employees are becoming better trained and we are also becoming a more attractive employer for external applicants. I can only encourage others – this idea really is worth it.