CEO Roundtable for Carolinas Discusses Skilled Workforce Development
The growth of German-American manufacturing is straining the availability of skilled workers across the country. Evidently this has been recognized in the Carolinas as well. On Tuesday, May 22, Consul General Lutz Görgens and German Embassy Minister Peter Fischer joined an enlightening examination of this condition at a CEO Roundtable for Carolinas Manufacturing Companies, hosted by Siemens in Charlotte, North Carolina. Organizers were quick to say that alleviation is a work-in-progress and one meeting is not a real “success story.” Still, the effort put into its conceptualization and implementation already seems noteworthy -- and may be encouraging to other German-American businesses that are experiencing similar problems.
Enlarge image (© Hans Faulstich) Pictures from CEO Roundtable (left):
Top: Group of 20+ CEO’s listen to presentation on Skilled Workforce. Bottom left: Lutz Görgens and Peter Fischer address CEO’s. Bottom middle: CEO organizer Hans Hartenstein explains the agenda. Bottom right: Siemens executive Mark Pringle welcomes guests.
The origins of this CEO Roundtable go back as far as November of 2011, when German Ambassador Ammon and Consul General Görgens met in Atlanta with leaders from German firms located in the South. Out of talks with plant managers from companies like BMW, Volkswagen, and Daimler came the idea to organize a German-American “CEO Roundtable for Carolinas Manufacturing Companies.” The first conference was envisioned to address perceived skills shortages by encouraging the spread of dual-track training programs that are prevalent in Germany. Hans Hartenstein of STEAG Energy Services volunteered to lead this effort.
In January of 2012, Consul General Görgens and Hans Hartenstein met in Charlotte, North Carolina to assess conditions in the Carolinas and recruit other organizers for a CEO Roundtable kickoff. Both knew the Charlotte area is home to over 200 German companies, so it could be assumed that some CEOs already appreciated the value of vocational education and training. But they also realized there were impediments to the formation of German-style industry / education / government partnerships that had to be recognized as well.
The so-called “Charlotte Region” encompasses a 16 county area spread across two states (North and South Carolina) and employs about 190,000 manufacturing workers in unevenly dispersed plant locations. While its 70 largest German companies employ well over 15,000 manufacturing workers, only three (3) have operations with more than 500 employees at one work site (Daimler Trucks, Schaeffler Group, and Siemens Energy). Thus organizing a CEO Roundtable that would be representative of regional German-American businesses interests would be somewhat like forming an area-wide Mittelstand. But at least there were places to start.
By February, three more local volunteers had accepted the challenge to organize the first CEO Roundtable for the Carolinas. Joining Hartenstein was a fellow manufacturing CEO -- Mike Birkle of Pfaff Molds. Two others were independent consultants with relevant expertise and regional connections (Hans Faulstich of BSI-Business Solutions and Mike Horrigan, a former HR executive with Schaeffler Group). These four then began the work of organizing a CEO Roundtable that would convene in less than four months.
On May 22nd, 23 executives representing 20 Germanic-American companies gathered at the Siemens Energy plant to discuss Skilled Workforce Development. They were joined by Consul General Lutz Görgens, Honorary Consul Kurt Waldthausen and German Embassy Minister Peter Fischer. First, each CEO introduced himself and his company, thereby forming new connections among region leaders. Next, Lutz Görgens and Peter Fischer spoke of current thinking about “Workforce Training - What Works in Germany and the USA”, including global perspectives expressed at the Aspen Institute conference in Washington DC on May 16th.
Enlarge image (© Michael Horrigan) Participating CEOs were given time to share their perceptions about workforce development practices. Discussions were spirited throughout a presentation of findings in a specially prepared report on Skilled Workforce Development in the Charlotte Region. Regional issues and views about the adaptability of German-style training models were freely debated. Reactions by so many CEO’s -- from well-known German companies like BMW, Bosch, and Siemens / privately held manufacturers like Schaeffler Group / as well as small & medium sized firms like Groninger and SGL Carbon – showed organizers the Roundtable was meeting expectations.
Participants of the CEO Roundtable then toured the Siemens factory. It is becoming the North American manufacturing hub for the company’s turbine and generator businesses. Executing its growth plans has challenged Siemens to hire 800 more skilled workers since the beginning of 2011. Meanwhile, other German manufacturing companies in the region (especially Daimler Truck in NC and the Schaeffler Group in SC) were re-hiring another 1,700 workers. Together, they forecast the need to hire as many as 1,600 more skilled workers by the end of 2012. Knowledge of such “hard facts” warned CEOs of a looming skilled labor shortage in the Charlotte Region. Walking the floor of the Siemens factory gave participants the time to consider the news.
Enlarge image (© Hans Faulstich) After the tour, CEO Roundtable participants reconvened and quickly reached two conclusions: 1) Changes are urgently needed to avert an impending skilled labor shortage in the Charlotte Region; and 2) CEOs are willing to collaborate in a group undertaking to alleviate such conditions, if and when individual actions are insufficient. On behalf of the German Consulate General and the German Embassy, Dr. Görgens and Mr. Fischer pledged their support to any business-led effort where local CEOs take the initiative – much like their predecessors did in Germany years ago. Organizers promised to distribute highlights of the CEO discussion sessions and maintain its communication network for some time. For now, Skilled Workforce Development is a business need proven to the CEO Roundtable for Carolinas Manufacturing Companies. Time will tell if a Catalytic Reaction is the result.
Article by Michael Horrigan, SPHR
Principal - M/H/R Services LLC