2020-04-06

A break in production leads to cracking the books

The corona pandemic has brought challenges to the KION Group and its brands in terms of their daily work. Chief among them is ensuring that its budding mechanical engineers, service technicians, mechatronics technicians, engineers and future business professionals can advance or complete their respective trainings within the planned timeframe despite the unplanned circumstances. Thanks to individual support and enormous commitment from the trainers and digital options available, the trainees and dual students can stay on the ball with the relevant topics and exam preparations and can virtually sit inside a forklift truck and practice.

On a Thursday evening, Axel Hölzlwimmer, a first-year trainee in the mechatronics group at STILL’s Munich location, received an unusual call. Beginning Friday, his training would move to his home. ‘Remote training’, or learning from home, was on the agenda from this point onwards. Instead of him making his usual morning commute to the site, he would remain at home. Yet he was not the only one; it was the fate of almost 270 trainees and dual students from KION subsidiaries, Linde Material Handling and STILL, throughout Germany. And it was the same fate for their trainers, who were also to remain at their desks at home with laptops at the ready as part of the protective measures to contain COVID-19. Indeed, it came as a surprise and it was a considerable interruption to the daily life of all involved.

The situation brought several challenges to everyone in charge of training at the respective KION brands: How do you coordinate the hordes of inquisitive young professionals-to-be when you must do so from home? How do you explain content from a distance that you would normally have shown directly at the forklift? Under these conditions, how do you best prepare the examinees for their final exams and assignments?

 Creating a theoretical foundation for practical challenges

These were just some of the questions the trainers from the various business areas at Linde Material Handling and STILL had to tackle pragmatically, purposefully, quickly and most importantly together. The solution to the primary goal of knowledge transfer was quickly clarified: e-learning combined with intensive support. "At the beginning, this was naturally an unfamiliar situation for everyone; for the trainees as well as for us. It was entirely new terrain," explains Christopher Lorenz, trainer for the mechatronics group at STILL in Hamburg. "Even though it involves a lot of effort since we are in close contact with every trainee daily, we see that there is a high level of motivation from both sides." The trainers from both brands exchange learning materials and can thus offer a comprehensive package to all trainees.

With the help of the appropriate online tools, the training years were quickly allocated and organized into groups. On the agenda: Various learning units ranging from basic knowledge for the specialist area, specific product launches by the individual brands to cross-topic units on lithium-ion technology. "Initially, it was a strange feeling to settle into a monotonous desk job instead of physically moving around the shop floor," admits Hölzlwimmer on the transition to home office. "Even though it is rather unusual to work on so much theory at once, you can see that we are learning important basics here, creating the groundwork for what we can later apply in practice. What we are learning has a purpose in the real world."

The trainers also make sure the youngsters do not get quickly bored despite limited opportunities: "We try to offer as much variety as possible," confirms Jean-Christopher Klix, the head of Vocational Training at Linde Material Handling. It also includes incorporating a little practical entertainment between the numerous theoretical units: Christopher Lorenz's trainees received an interactive learning kit, which included a micro-controller, which is a small single-chip computer system where they must write a program to make the integrated LEDs light up. "You see, they can tie in with the programming language they learned in electrical engineering and they can actually experience their small accomplishments first-hand."

"You do notice that we are learning important basics here, creating the groundwork for what we can later apply in practice. What we are learning has a purpose in the real world."

Axel Hölzlwimmer, First-year trainee, mechatronics at STILL

Intensive exchanges and fruitful cooperation

Well before their German colleagues were confronted with how to manage the problem, employees at Linde Material Handling in China were also confronted with the difficult dilemma that they could not simply go to the local plants from one day to the next. Here as well a creative solution was quickly devised. All that was needed was a short telephone conference where the respective individuals restructured the actual practice exercises at the plant into an online training course. "We made efficient use of the short-term drop in maintenance requirements and used the time to train the engineers," says Meng Qi, a technology training supervisor at Linde China in Xiamen. And with success: Almost 93 percent of the participants in all 29 online courses held at the Service Technology Training Center completed the work with flying colors.

Whether in China or at the KION production sites in Germany, unusual measures have been called upon in these extraordinary times. And when you are sharing ideas and creations across the Group, new and exciting ways of learning are created. A catalogue of questions for prospective industrial mechanics, which, similar to an online test for theoretical operating school tests, trains knowledge using multiple-choice questions. The project was developed in close cooperation with the trainees. And a particularly creative result has been achieved. A cover picture designed by one of the trainees sums up the cooperation in a nutshell. The motif: two trucks from Linde Material Handling and STILL carrying each other's 'load'; a symbol of the mutual support from the individual KION brands.

Sustainable learning outcomes for the future

The test is planned to be further expanded so that it can become part of the standard trainee curricula from both companies in the future. "In most cases, a crisis also represents an opportunity and thus digitilization receives a boost throughout the education system," concludes Klix. In addition to the trainers' thematic blocks, the trainees also receive digital material from the vocational schools. All in all, the trainers from both KION brands agree that the cooperation has been working well and they are getting on well. And they continue to focus on the positive developments that are emerging during these uncertain days: motivated trainees, effective learning programs and rewarding collaborations.

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