A celebrity in the Siegerland
That morning, Altmaier got out of his limousine in an excellent mood and was welcomed by Nina Patisson and Jan Henrik Leisse, the CEOs of Albrecht Bäumer GmbH & Co. KG. He gave an open and approachable impression and listened intently to what the two managing directors had to say about the topics of digitalization, the skills shortage and the reduction of bureaucracy.
Exchanging ideas with the younger generation of entrepreneurs
The Federal Minister Altmaier motivated his visit at Bäumer’s with his wish to enter into talks with young and aspiring entrepreneurs of the younger generation. “Your generation looks at things differently and from another perspective. This also goes to show that digitalization is a major aspect of securing the future of any company, regardless of its size.”
Challenges of digitalization
Groundbreaking technologies generate new added value streams on a global scale. “This is no longer possible without digitalization. Financing is the biggest challenge. Innovations require considerable investments in research and development. We want to be part of the 20% of engineering companies that will come out on top of the digital revolution”, says Jan Henrik Leisse. At Bäumer, the focus is on two new digital products: With SOPHIE, Bäumer offers for the first time a production control system that has been specially developed for the foam processing industry. In addition, the new digital networking platform B+ Connect has been specially developed for Bäumer’s technical support.
In concrete terms, Jan Henrik Leisse calls for Altmaier’s support: “We have been needing the government’s since yesterday, not the day after tomorrow – your strategy for mid-sized companies now needs to be rapidly implemented.”
Nina Patisson raises another issue: “We are having a lot of difficulty in getting our employees to really understand the topic of digitalization. A lot of them do not understand why this is so important to us and why it is prioritized in many areas.” She has proposed a country-wide communication campaign regarding the question of what digitalization really is and what it means for companies, people and jobs. While some jobs will disappear, new ones will be created, too. Such a campaign should help reduce people’s fear for their professional future.
People need to become more versatile in the way they think and act – and not just within the companies, because this concerns the general development of Germany as an industrial nation, or have we already missed that train in Germany? The fast pace of technology development and their implementation in innovations requires a maximum of flexibility from the employees.
Specialists need up-to-date training
In competing countries such as China, the US and Japan, children are already prepared for the digital shift in a playful way. There, billions are pumped into research projects with the participation of universities. The generation that is growing up there already has a different understanding of digitalization, automation and artificial intelligence.
Until now, these topics have not yet become part of our schools’ and universities’ curricula. Training contents are not practice-oriented. This is not just about professional competence. The individual needs to be prepared for life-long learning and have the willingness to do so. The versatility of learning should be promoted more strongly. This also means that people should not only bring traditional educational knowledge to the table, but gather many different kinds of know-how, ranging from crafting and artistic to social and nature-oriented experiences. This teaches the brain to constantly switch its way of thinking and stray from the beaten track. This makes for an ideal preparation for the digital shift which requires much more flexible thinking. Digital products are never going to be finished but will constantly be developed further. Therefore, people’s ways of thinking need to change as well.
“We have a long way to go in catching up here. We invest a lot of energy into the training of our youth, since specialists are virtually impossible to find”, says Nina Patisson. When it comes to these topics, Altmaier refers to his colleague Anja Karliczek, the Federal Minister of Education. He points toward the Skilled Immigration Act which will make Germany more attractive for international skilled workers, and toward the modernization of education and training programs as regards digitalization.
Reducing bureaucracy as part of the strategy for mid-sized companies
For an international company such as Bäumer, with 85% of turnover being achieved abroad, the German bureaucracy is an issue. “All the things top performers have to provide and document in Germany which are not necessary in other countries – for us, they amount to a real competitive disadvantage, as in the long run, it is our clients who have to pay for these extra tasks and they are unlikely to understand that”, says Nina Patisson. Federal Minister Altmaier has added this important point to his strategy for mid-sized companies and strongly advocates for a quick digitalization of administrative services as well as for accelerated planning and approval procedures. “I agree with you, as the competition becomes more and more global, too. But one difficulty to consider is certainly the fact of having to implement this with a coalition partner we need to come to an agreement with.” Applications for research projects on the European level are extremely complex and take a lot of time. The ZIM projects within the central program for SME innovations of the Ministry of Economy, which Bäumer also participates in, are much less complicated and more practice-oriented. However, the admission criteria are still too strict, as mid-sized companies with a higher revenue are being excluded and would need to apply for EU research projects which require a bureaucratic effort that is impossible to perform for a mid-sized company.
Altmaier’s strategy is a move in the right direction
While the Minister’s strategy for mid-sized companies is a move in the right direction, it remains to be seen to what extent and most importantly when it will be implemented.
Some of the demands, such as the tax reduction, have been discussed for a long time without any result. Altmaier cannot impose the abolition of the solidarity surcharge for mid-sized companies on his own and so far, he has not been backed by the Ministry of Finance. When it comes to the rural areas, there is still no commitment for a quick implementation of latest-generation broadband and mobile technologies. Education and the training of skilled workers are a key issue for mid-sized companies. Here, Altmaier’s strategy ought to be supplemented by a strategy of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research.
In conclusion, it can be said that many aspects of the Minister’s strategy exactly hit the nerve of the German mid-sized companies, especially when it comes to topics such as tax reduction, the financing of mid-sized companies, the recruitment of skilled workers and the promotion of digitalization. It remains to be hoped that the implementation will be progressing rapidly now.