Wolfgang M. Drechsler: Metal and electrical industry on the upswing

The metal and electrical industry (M+E), the largest industrial branch in Hessen, has made it through the crisis. In surveys, half of the M+E companies assess the business situation to be good or very good. They have performed a rapid come­­back, for which there are various reasons. First and foremost, it is a company-oriented collective bargaining policy with opening clauses and more flexible working hours, foresighted human resource management as well as short-time work that were conducive to overcoming the crisis.

The regional group for Darmstadt and Southern Hessen of the employers’ asso­­ciation for companies in the metal and electrical industry of Hessen (HESSEN­METALL), has contributed considerably. It was founded in 1948 and represents over 120 companies in Southern Hessen with a workforce of nearly 30,000. It is an im­­portant consultant and represent­ative of the industry. Its lawyers efficiently support companies in all matters of collective bargaining policy and labour law. The association is partner and lawyer when it comes to industrial human resource work, as well as expert knowledge broker when it comes to current issues related to the law, ergonomics or communication.


Important impulses for the industrial daily routine of the member companies are further given through customised advanced training, recruitment campaigns, substantiated anal­­yses and implementation assis­­t­ance with the modernisation of the work organisation as well as efficient PR and media training. Since October 2010, the regional group for Darmstadt and Southern Hessen has been oper­­ating from the Centre for Consultation, Cooperation and Communication between Business, Government and the Public. The centre is the contact point for members, the media, associations as well as schools, universities and research partners in the network, and it serves as a platform for implementing economical and social policy tasks.
Metal and electrical industry network. That type of cooperation is important, for, despite all the euphoria about the recovery, it should not be ignored that the internationalisation of business is progressing, the complexity of offers and services is rising, markets keep moving, and the competition is growing. At the same time, the M+E sector remains productive and very well positioned in spite of a comparatively high wage level. Good location factors such as traffic connections, high innovation ability and modern production sites are some of the reasons.

Innovation, in particular, is one of the strong points of Southern Hessian companies. It is the result of high investments in research and development as well as cooperation with research and education facilities beyond their region, which is beneficial to all sides. Companies finance research in colleges and universities and, in return, take valuable know-how along.

That improves the growth opportunities of the companies in the metal and electrical industry on the global markets, since future challenges – from environmental protection to a safe energy supply – require technical solutions. Continued success requires innovative and competitive products, highly flexible labour regulations, reasonable economic conditions in terms of the labour market, and skilled labour.


Cluster initiatives. In the long term, the network concept must be further expanded. Companies that participate in networks experience higher success rates than others. Companies attach great importance to their customer relations, but also to connections with suppliers and other companies. Cluster initiatives are an example of the networking effort of the employers’ association for companies in the metal and electrical industry of Hessen. Clusters are geographically concentrated, vertical and/or horizontal company networks that produce a shared success. The objective of a cluster is to create a favourable environment for innovations and to improve the adaptability of regional businesses to changing conditions. Clusters such as the Aviation Cluster in Hessen offer long-term competitive advantages – not only outward as a unit, but also inside the cluster. For, organised networks of cooperating companies boost competitiveness and generate employment.

Hessen Champions. Many companies of the M+E sector were able to increase their competitiveness so that they are present on the world market. The “Hessen Champions” competition initiated by the state of Hessen and the federation of Hessian entrepreneur associations (VhU) honours Hessian companies which have become global market leaders through outstanding products and services. In 2010, EnviroChemie GmbH of Roßdorf in Southern Hessen was awarded one of the coveted prizes in the category “new products and developments”. In the field of industrial hydro- and wastewater technology, EnviroChemie GmbH develops systems and services for resource-efficient production.

Standing out as well is Sirona Dental Systems GmbH, which has represented progress in the den­tal industry for over 130 years. With ground-breaking devel­­opments in dental treatment, the company has set the benchmark since its foundation. The “Sirona Center of Inno­vation” includes a building complex with an area up­­wards of 8,000 square metres uniting the research and development sections of all busi­­ness areas.
Innovation ability also plays an essential role at Schenck Process GmbH in Darmstadt. The company makes sure that process sequences in companies around the world are operational. It offers solu­­tions to customers with requirements in the fields of weighing, dosing, sifting and automating. The globally active company has earned several “Top Employer for Engineers” awards from the Corporate Research Foundation (CRF Institute).


Skilled staff wanted. In the metal and electrical industry, the need for skilled staff is growing, threatening to compro­mise competitiveness. At the end of last year, the German economy had an over­­all shortage of 84,000 MINT profession­als (MINT = Mathematics, Information technology, Natural sciences, Technol­ogy) and at the end of March 2011, over 65,000 engineers. Although the number of graduates in scientific and technical studies is rising noticeably, it is not sufficient to supply the demand in busi­­ness and re­­search. Even more so as, in the medium term, numerous currently em­­ployed MINT academics will be lost to retirement in the coming years. Experts even expect the economic and structural change to cause an increased need for MINT academics. The association is counteracting with numerous initiatives. For instance, info-mobiles or information days inform parents and pupils of the education and employment opportunities in the sector.

The M+E career information website (www.me-vermitteln.de) is another way, in times of demographic change, to raise in­­ter­­est and enthusiasm in future employees of an industry. The site, initiated by Gesamt­­metall, the federation of German employers’ associations in the metal and electrical industries, provides a descriptive and de­­tailed portrayal of the professions in the metal and electrical industries. It is meant for not only potential staff but also edu­ca­­tors and companies, who, besides parents, have the greatest influence on the career choices of pupils. Here, M+E mem­­ber companies are given an opportunity to establish direct and lasting contacts with pupils in order to score in the com­­petition for the talents of tomorrow.


Supporting and expanding the dual study, which the federation is promoting through its cluster initiative, is another important point. It will provide companies with
a doubly qualified workforce: students can acquire scientific know-how in their studies and familiarise themselves with important operating cycles in work experience phases. Alternatively, they can complete an apprenticeship in a company and benefit from a contractual commitment.

Conclusion. Innovative products developed by a very well trained staff and flexible labour relations are factors that companies in the M+E industry require to continue to survive and grow on highly competitive international markets. As a dependable partner and service provider, the federation supports its members to the best of its abilities. Expert legal ad­­vice and representation is complemented by long-term representation of interests as well as persuasion of society and policy makers.


Drechsler_04as-KopieAfter a training course for manage­ment recruits, the author has been active for the German confederation of employers’ asso­­ciations on behalf of the entrepreneur associations of Southern Hessen since 1982, at first as a general lawyer and lawyer special­ised in labour law and since 1994, as CEO. Since then, Wolfgang M. Drechsler has also been alternate chair­­man of the administrative board of the employment agency in Darmstadt.