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Training of the future - digital, interactive, independent

Training in lockdown—is it even possible? This was the key question facing the KION brands Linde Material Handling, STILL, and Dematic in March 2020. Now, what the trainees, students and their teachers have built from the ground up in just a short space of time, has not only guided them successfully through the past year, it also has the potential to change the future of training for the KION brands in the long term.


This year, Girls’ Day at the KION brand Linde Material Handling will be a little different to previous years. As ever, Linde MH will be opening its doors to interested girls to give them a closer look at the training and study opportunities in the company—but this time round it will only be a virtual event. “We have put together a good mix of information that we convey via video messages and through direct, i.e., digital, interaction with our trainees and students,” explains Jean-Christopher Klix, Training Manager at Linde MH. “The girls will also be sent a practical exercise to do at home; they will receive a small motor with a precise guide for assembling a small transmission with an electric motor, which is also controlled via a self-programmed microcontroller."

Girls‘ Day und Boys‘ Day in Germany

On 22 April, Girls’ Day and Boys’ Day will be held across Germany—this year, due to the ongoing pandemic situation, the event will be predominantly digital in nature. Around 65,000 boys and girls and over 5000 companies will be taking part in this year’s day of action against stereotypes in the workplace. This will give them the chance to find out firsthand about the range of training and job opportunities available.

Practical and Customized Training Packages

Even before the pandemic began, packages were being put together at the KION subsidiary STILL. In February 2020, Jan Wehlen started his new role as Training Manager at STILL’s site in Hamburg. Not six weeks later, he and his team were faced with challenges that no one saw coming due to the coronavirus pandemic. This called for creative solutions. In line with the motto “If you can’t go to your training, your training will come to you” the trainees were sent technology kits consisting of hardware elements with relevant assignments. For example, small one-chip computer systems were sent to mechatronics engineers in the Controlling department as part of a micro-controller course, in which the trainees were able to use a programming language they had already learned and gain some initial experience.

After all, practical work is and remains a central element of training, especially in the technical professions. This is something Jan Wehlen is well aware of, “Of course, these training areas are subject to strict safety measures on site. While this generation of trainees is coping well with the transition to digital training, they specifically chose a technical career path that involved working in the workshop and no online course can replace that.” With support in the form of daily contact with their supervisors—who continue to develop their training methods with a high level of commitment and creativity throughout the pandemic—and with the kits they had received, the trainees were at least able to bring a little of the workshop to their workspace at home.

Digital training at STILL: If the trainee can’t go to training, the training will come to him.

From Interim Solution to Established Method

At the start of the pandemic, all KION brands focused on how best to prepare their students for their final exams using digital means. “In view of the fact that the initial phase was characterized by uncertainty and a wait each week for developments, we did really well to keep the personal contact lively and also to make good progress with our content-related programs,” says Christian Strehl, who is currently training three IT specialists in applications development at the Augsburg branch of KION’s Dematic brand. First, all young talents were given end devices, platforms were created for daily interaction and curricula were revised—and all this was done in just two weeks. The trainers found themselves in the same boat as their trainees: They, too, had to adjust to the new conditions, learn how to use new programs, and get used to new processes. The new situation and the even better digital integration have also led to much closer collaboration: regular discussions held to ensure the trainees all had a similar experience, and the general communication between trainers and trainees on the subject of welding are just two examples of this.

No wonder, then, that the teaching methods across all KION brands have seen considerable change in this time. “Of course, we were increasingly integrating digital formats into our training programs beforehand, but we are now seeing a real push toward digitalization brought about by the pandemic,” says Jean-Christopher Klix. Self-paced learning, agile methods, and design thinking—a five-stage process for working through problems—are just some of the methods that have been introduced into digital distance learning and will also be retained going forward.

Six trainees at Linde MH were even give the chance to play an active role in shaping what learning should look like in the future: The trainees formed their own cross-departmental project team for practice-integrated training—known as PiA—to oversee the standardization of some digitizable training content using Microsoft Forms and provide support for the training department through the digital transformation. Jean-Christopher Klix is convinced: “The mix of various teaching/learning methods used has made the learning process effective, varied, and interesting.”

100 percent online teaching is far from ideal, both for the trainees and students and the trainers themselves.

Building Digital Bridges for New Young Talent

Despite all this, however, all three training managers agree that 100 percent online teaching is far from ideal, both for the trainees and students and the trainers themselves. They are hopeful that the next group of trainees will be able to do more practical work. They are due to start in August 2021 and the course is already full up. “Contrary to the statistical trend that I encountered in countless committees and working groups, we have had no problems filling our places and there has also definitively been no loss in quality,” reports Jan Wehlen from STILL.

Career orientation is suffering more than most areas during the pandemic. Ultimately, it’s difficult to compensate for the lack of internships, and where digital training conferences fall short it’s also not possible to arrange personal meetings at the trade fair stand. To make up for any shortcomings, a project group at STILL, consisting of four dual-study students and trainees, recently launched their own interactive concept. They are offering career and study guidance for interested school classes or groups of up to 25 participants via video conference. The main focus here is on any questions the schoolchildren may have about the general application process. The project group also plays a business game and reports on their experiences and opportunities at STILL. “Our trainees and students are entirely responsible for running this program, for which we have received nothing but positive feedback from the schools involved,” states Jan Wehlen proudly. “We have now even seen some other companies adopting the concept so as to maintain this important connection between the professional world and schools during the pandemic.”