Im Dialog mit Professor Thomas Edig
Professor Edig, Volkswagen was the first German car manufacturer to make a very firm decision in favour of e-mobility. Where does the company currently stand?
The Volkswagen Group has launched the largest electric offensive in the automotive industry. We are investing more than 80 billion euros through to 2026, expanding our range of e-models and hybrid vehicles. We are building six battery factories in Europe and investing in software and digitalisation. Our restructuring is successful, demand for e-vehicles is high.
E-mobility is by no means undisputed. In the face of global crises and rising energy prices, doubts are growing louder again.
Volkswagen is fully committed to the Paris Agreement climate targets for 2050, and the current crises do nothing to change that. We are sticking to our e-strategy. Now more than ever it is important to align the company technologically, economically and socially in such a way that Volkswagen continues to set standards in the coming decades. The volatile framework conditions will remain. We have arrived in the VUCA world so often described. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity are having a noticeable impact on our day-to-day business.
How does this uncertainty affect the workforce?
Every change can trigger anxiety. In phases like these it is important to answer three basic questions: Why is the change necessary? The question of purpose always comes first. What exactly is changing? This question addresses the expectations of the new role, new actions and perhaps new values. How will the individual be affected? The team’s emotional bond must be maintained. Initially, and quite understandably, upheavals are associated with the personal fear of losing one’s job or being torn out of one’s familiar sphere of activity. Every company needs to find appropriate answers to these questions. Otherwise, the workforce risks not being involved in the change, but being affected by it. If the workforce is motivated, then change will be seen as an opportunity rather than a risk.
That sounds fairly textbook. How hard will it be in everyday business?
The challenges are huge, of course, and vary within each organisation. Take Zwickau, for example. Our plant was the first to be completely converted from combustion engines to electric drive. It was literally the case that right after the last combustion engine came off the production line, the excavators drove into the assembly hall. A turning point.
Now over 1,400 fully electric vehicles from the Group brands Volkswagen, AUDI and CUPRA are produced here every day. Zwickau is Volkswagen AG’s most modern multi-brand location in Europe. Volkswagen has invested a lot of money in Saxony. Looking back, we did a lot of things right. People were very anxious in the beginning. No one knew at the time whether the decision to rebuild the plant was the right one.
How did you deal with the fears among the workforce?
The restructuring of the VW plant in Zwickau was a radical change. At the time, the production site was one of the best. So there was a lot at stake from the employees’ point of view. Therefore, our Volkswagen Bildungsinstitut GmbH, together with the production departments and the human resources department, developed a comprehensive campaign lasting over 16 months, which provided information, training and education for all employees.
The transformation was carried across all hierarchical levels. The programme included many measures: a large »Change Convention« event, an image campaign, future forums for shared discussion, numerous learning journeys and Digi Days. In a nutshell: all facets of e-mobility were addressed. Our goal was to break down existing prejudices, the resulting misunderstandings, and ultimately personal anxieties.
If the workforce is motivated, then change will be seen as an opportunity rather than a risk.
That was a comprehensive information campaign. To what extent was the workforce actively involved?
Our recipe for success was to involve every single employee. The slogan »Tradition Meets Future«, for example, was a suggestion from our staff. Everyone was invited to submit suggestions and then the whole team voted. A specific e-mobility escape room was introduced. The puzzles were adapted to the specific topics of the production site. Everyone – whether employee or management – recognised themselves in the content. The tasks had to be solved collaboratively in small teams.
In this way, the topic of e-mobility and the Volkswagen strategy was addressed across departments and without hierarchical differences. After all, personal experience with the new technology was pivotal for the change in perspective. The ID.3 employee fleet convinced everyone through the great product. Everyone experienced that e-mobility
is also fun.
Where does Volkswagen currently stand in Saxony?
The transformation of Volkswagen AG started in Saxony. The Zwickau plant was the first to be converted. Future concepts for the engine plant in Chemnitz and our Transparent Factory in Dresden are currently being developed.
The diesel crisis was a catalyst for Volkswagen that made it clear just how urgently our strategy and culture needed to transform. Now, Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH stands for the successful new beginning. We are a kind of role model for the Group. Incidentally, the financial markets are also watching these changes very closely.
Saxony’s successful transformation has increased the confidence of institutional investors in the next big change: the development of the Volkswagen Group into a tech company that will offer automobiles, software and services as an integrated mobility group in the future.
What concerns do you have for the coming years?
I see the shortage of skilled workers as the major challenge. This is not a problem specific to Saxony. It affects Germany as an industrial location. In Saxony we currently have full employment. The challenge becomes clear when you look at the figures closely: 2,800 jobs in the Zwickau district alone cannot be filled. That’s why I’m already worried about whether we will even be able to fill our jobs adequately in Germany in ten years’ time. Without a targeted immigration policy, this won’t be possible.
How are you combating this trend?
Together with the Volkswagen Group, we are promoting initiatives for more immigration in the region. For example, a centre for immigration is being built in our immediate surroundings. Together with the state government, the Zwickau Employment Agency, the city of Zwickau and the districts, we are in close dialogue to counteract the shortage of skilled workers and make the region more attractive. This is where we need to do a lot more.
Through the Volkswagen Bildungsinstitut GmbH we are already responding to the changing requirement profiles in training and further education. In addition to traditional mechanical training, skilled workers are also taught IT and electronics. A necessary step. Since without available skilled workers, we won’t be able to survive in international competition.