Women and Training Keys to Solving Technical Staff Shortages

April 7, 2009
Despite the dismal economy, there’s a shortage of technically skilled workers. Here’s how to fix the problem.

Heimo Ebner
Commercial Managing Director
NKE Austria GmbH
Steyr, Austria

Despite the adverse economic situation, a shortage of technically skilled workers is still a prevailing challenge in Europe and the U.S. Technical staff and engineers are in especially high demand. According to a survey conducted by Ernst & Young, 83% of Austrian companies, for example, have problems finding suitably qualified employees.

The only long-term solution is training and education.

For production and technical jobs, vocational training and apprenticeships are well-established traditions in Austria and Germany. The vocational training system provides solid on and off-the-job training for young people in hundreds of occupations. Now is the time to modernize this system and make it more attractive to both employers and students.

One suggestion: There should be more flexibility and a broader perspective, such as easier access to higher education for the apprentices. Companies that provide vocational training are acting in their own self-interest. Last year, for instance, NKE Austria and a national training institute set up a workshop offering more than 50 apprentice positions in the metalworking industry. This will certainly help secure skilled workers over the long term for our own company, as well as for others in the region.

Our goal is a 10% share of apprentices in the workforce, which we recently attained by adding seven more apprentices, two of them young women in highly technical occupations. That is significant because women are another key factor in tackling the skills shortage.

Women scientists, engineers, and technicians often must juggle job pressures and long hours with unrelenting family obligations. Thus, it’s not surprising that more than half eventually quit midcareer, according to research published last year in the Harvard Business Review. Innovative companies can help themselves by providing women engineers and technicians the training and mentoring needed to jump-start stalled careers, or start new ones.

NKE continues to expand a comprehensive program to foster the professional development of women. They make up 37% of our workforce, far above the industry average of about 7%, and four of 10 department heads. To help balance job and family, NKE offers flexible working hours and, starting this summer, company-sponsored childcare during vacations and holidays. Women’s advancement is a win-win situation for employees and employers.

In terms of higher education, shorter and more practical degree courses at technical colleges, in Austria called Universities of Applied Sciences, are gaining traction. Instead of six to eight-year programs at traditional universities, students can get a bachelor’s degree in three years, similar to the Anglo-Saxon system. NKE has been working with local and regional Universities of Applied Sciences on a number of projects and offers opportunities for internships and graduation theses to students. Many of these graduates have become indispensable driving forces in the company’s operation and management. It’s just one more way that as a fast-growing company, we’re working with the government and other partners to tackle the skills shortage in our region.

NKE Austria GmbH (nke.at) manufactures premium-class bearings for industrial applications.

Edited by Kenneth Korane

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