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What are the future skills in mechanical and plant engineering?

The requirements in mechanical and plant engineering are becoming increasingly complex, for example due to the digital transformation or the increasing, international competition. As a result, tasks are changing and new competencies are required from the company’s own employees. For future-oriented competence management, the decisive starting point is to define these future competencies – or “future skills”.

But which future skills are particularly relevant? And how can we prepare our own workforce for these challenges? ProduktionNRW explored these and other questions in an in-person event with an innovative BarCamp on June 9, 2022.

Study presentation: Future skills in mechanical and plant engineering

Dr. Jörg Friedrich, VDMA Head of Education, began by presenting the key findings of the study “Future Skills in Mechanical and Plant Engineering”, which the VDMA conducted together with the Kienbaum Institute @ ISM. The study’s key findings:

  • 90 percent of the companies surveyed are undergoing change processes. These are primarily of a technological, organizational and/or process nature. Changes in corporate culture were reported by 17 percent of the companies surveyed.
  • The majority of companies are aware of how important future competencies are for the long-term success of the company. Just under one in two companies is currently working on defining these competencies. One in ten companies has already defined them in the form of a competency model.
  • Future competencies are scarce: Four out of five companies see themselves confronted with a “skills gap” – partly due to the shortage of skilled workers. They state that they will have to build up the necessary future competencies in the next 5 to 10 years.
  • The companies see the greatest development potential in interdisciplinary work, agility and readiness for change, for example.
  • In order to ensure that they have the necessary skills, around 80 percent of companies are focusing on recruiting new specialists with the relevant competencies.
  • Further training is rated as equally important. 80 percent of companies upskill their specialists. Retraining (reskilling) is also used by 56 percent of companies to qualify their employees.
  • For the majority of companies, leadership primarily means developing employees. Virtual leadership and the development of digital strategies and digital business models are other important leadership tasks.

The subsequent discussion focused on the question of whether the study and the accompanying handout are also suitable for SMEs and can be implemented there. In the course of the further exchange, it was made clear that the study is primarily intended to serve as an orientation. It is central that the results and recommendations from the study and the handout are to be adapted to the respective conditions and the individual orientation of the respective company.

Competence management at WILO

Claudia Fischer, Global Head of Change Academy at WILO SE, and Björn Sparbrod, Vice President Group Product Management at WILO SE, then gave an insight into the implementation of competence management at WILO. Björn Sparbrod first presented the skill development at WILO for the Group Product Management area, which includes “traditional” product management, digital solutions and technical training. Here, above all, the sustainable and structured development of technical as well as general skills has played an overriding role since 2019. In addition, the development of the global technical trainings was revised according to the latest methodological and didactic findings. This newly prepared learning content will be successively rolled out in the organization from mid-2022.

Claudia Fischer then presented the new WILO competence model currently being rolled out and the associated implementation process. This competence model consists of core competencies and individual competencies. The core competencies connect all WILO employees worldwide, while the individual competencies are job-specific. The new learning culture at WILO relies on the fact that the competency-specific learning content is trained by the workforce in a self-directed manner.

The subsequent discussion focused, among other things, on female and male employees in production. The challenge was to successfully integrate them into competence management, as they do not have access to the digital world or are reluctant to take advantage of the opportunities.

BarCamp – an ideal tool for exchange and networking

Finally, the focus was on the exchange between the participants. Dr. Jörg Friedrich introduced the innovative BarCamp format: At a BarCamp, only the topic is fixed, an agenda is not predetermined. After a short introduction, the agenda is created from the suggestions of the participants, who then become “session givers”. After the so-called “session planning”, each person chooses an interesting topic. The session givers are responsible for the organization of the session. It is even desired to change the discussion rounds if the course of the exchange does not correspond to one’s own ideas.

On June 9, 2022, those present at the BarCamp discussed, among other things, the digital challenges in professional development, practical tips on best-practice formats for professional development, or leadership at a distance. Although the BarCamp format was hardly known among the participants, the format was accepted and led to a relaxed, topic-related exchange.

Further information:
  • VDMA/Kienbaum study results “Future Skills in Mechanical and Plant Engineering” can be found here.


The event was offered by VDMA in cooperation with ProduktionNRW. ProduktionNRW is the competence network for mechanical engineering and production technology in North Rhine-Westphalia and is run by the VDMA NRW. ProduktionNRW sees itself as a platform for networking, informing and marketing companies, institutions and networks among themselves and along the value chain. Significant parts of the services provided by ProduktionNRW are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).