Arthur Himmelspach is concentrating on the drill plate he is working on. The 42-year-old in the gray polo shirt and peaked cap has been employed at the plant of the automotive supplier Continental in Korbach, North Hesse, for twelve years. But the workshop in which he is currently standing is not his normal work area in hose production. Himmelspach takes part in an in-house training program that is unique in this form and size. His employer calls it CITT: Continental Institute for Technology and Transformation. Himmelspach and his classmates are Conti’s answer to the greatest challenges facing the automotive industry and its many thousands of workers in Germany: structural change, automation, conversion to electric cars.
For two years, Himmelspach will work in various departments here on the Korbach factory premises, gaining a better understanding of the materials that are used there. At the end, if everything goes well, you will receive a certificate from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, equivalent to regular vocational training as a process mechanic.
At the age of 42, Himmelspach is actually no longer at an age when you go to school. His 18-year-old daughter made fun of him, he says. She just left school and dad has to go back. But he didn’t want to miss the chance that was offered to Himmelspach here. “It would have been stupid not to do it,” he says. The children were a great help, especially when dealing with new technologies. Theory lessons at the CITT sometimes take place digitally as video conferences. He doesn’t believe that his previous job will be replaced by a robot in the near future. But the direction the industry is taking cannot be ignored: “Even if a bunch of robots do the job at some point, you still need people. At least then I have a chance. The unskilled has none.”
“No one will give me anything”
Unskilled, that’s what Himmelspach is up to now. He has no recognized professional training. He actually wanted to study, he says, but that didn’t work out. Leaving the job at his age and continuing his education seemed impossible to him. The family depends on his income. In the CITT program, he continues to receive his collective wages, he only has to do without shift bonuses. And the motivation is great to make something out of what he learns here. Even after completing his training, he wants to continue his education: “I just take everything there is.” The future will be difficult enough: “No one will give me anything.”
The automotive industry faces a double problem on the labor market. On the one hand, there is the shortage of skilled workers. The number of skilled workers is declining because of demographic change and because traditional training is no longer attractive enough for many. In order to fill the vacancies, the industry has long been openly discussing the need to lower the demands on applicants.