Just over three years ago, Rene Körner took up a full-time job as a team leader at a restaurant in the central German city of Magdeburg after the sudden illness of a family member derailed his plans to pursue a career in IT.
The job seemed like a logical transition for the dropout who had done several part-time stints as a kitchen staff and server during his studies. Above all, it provided a much-needed stream of income he needed to take care of his family business.
As Körner, a gaming enthusiast who loved assembling personal computers as a child, settled into his restaurant job, a little nudge from a friend launched his career on a completely different path.
“Restaurant work was fun, but it wasn’t satisfying,” Körner told DW. “A friend, who was writing her doctoral thesis at Volkswagen, told me about this new programming school in Wolfsburg, Faculty 73. It offered a great opportunity: a chance to work for VW and do things I loved really do.”
Last March, Körner left Faculty 73 as a software developer with a full-time contract from the automaker in hand. He is now part of a team that is responsible for the proper functioning of the company’s IT back office services.
“Right now, I’m just having fun. I want to grow more as a software developer, as a product owner. These are exciting times at VW as it focuses on electric vehicles. is exactly what I’ve always wanted.” said the 35-year-old.
René Körner graduated from Faculty 73 as a software developer with an ongoing VW job
VW’s retraining and upskilling strategy
Faculty 73, the name inspired by Sheldon Cooper’s love of number 73 in the sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’, is a crucial part of VW’s multibillion-euro software push as it unfolds. prepares to overthrow Tesla, the market leader in electric cars. .
The coding school is meant to help the automaker maneuver through a shortage of IT professionals amid an intense battle for talent with not only its automotive peers, but also Apple and Google-owner Alphabet. , which are also developing electric vehicles.
Located across the Mittelland Canal from Volkswagen’s world headquarters in Wolfsburg, Faculty 73 trains basic software developers in two years. It plans to train around 600 IT specialists by 2024, with the majority among current VW employees looking to change roles. The earn while learning program culminates in a VW job upon successful completion.
“More than 70% of the students we enrolled last year came from Volkswagen and most of them had worked on the assembly lines,” said Ralph Linde, director of the Volkswagen Group Academy and director of the learning from the automaker, at DW. “Moving from a blue-collar job to a white-collar job means a huge change. You can also see in their eyes that it’s one of the greatest opportunities they’ve ever had.”
Faculty 73 plans to train around 600 IT specialists by 2024, with the majority among existing VW employees looking to change roles
In search of undiscovered software talent
Volkswagen’s quest for software talent extends beyond Faculty 73 to another coding school in town: 42 Wolfsburg. The automaker is the biggest force behind the nonprofit school, supporting it with experts, equipment and donations. Microsoft and Google are among the other partners.
Based in a red-brick building inspired by the VW campus, the school eschews conventional methods to train the next generation of software professionals, many of whom VW hopes will end up working for the automaker and help its radical transition to the electric vehicles. .
42 Wolfsburg stands out for what it doesn’t offer, much like its peers at the 42 chain of coding schools launched by French entrepreneur Xavier Niel. There are no lectures, textbooks, or teachers, just peer-to-peer learning. The school does not issue any diploma recognized by the State and is free. Anyone aged 18 and over with a passion for coding can apply.
Borrowing from Silicon Valley’s fun work culture, the place is outfitted with an amphitheater, sleeping cabins, video game consoles, a slackline area, and the ubiquitous foosball table. The idea is to help students navigate the rigors and pressures as they train to become the best coders by implementing challenging projects.
“Volkswagen is very intrigued by the potential of our students and our concept of learning,” Max Senges, director and CEO of 42 Wolfsburg, told DW. “There is a huge need for talent at VW. They see both the potential of hiring our employees and bringing their employees here as scholarships and gaining some of the culture and mindset that we offer. “
Senges, a former Google executive, is currently setting up another campus for his unconventional coding school in Berlin, Germany’s IT hotspot. VW and its software unit CARIAD have also put their weight behind 42 Berlin, which is due to launch in the fall of this year.
There are no classes, textbooks, or teachers at 42 Wolfsburg, just peer-to-peer learning
Software: The Money Spinner
Software has become the holy grail of automakers, which traditionally viewed it as secondary to hardware. Swiss investment bank UBS estimates that software will be the biggest source of revenue for automakers by 2030 with a revenue pool of $1.9 trillion (€1.7 trillion) in areas such as the robotaxi service, in-car infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems.
While software is expected to be the main differentiator going forward, traditional automakers such as VW, Toyota and Stellantis, which UBS says are years behind Tesla’s software capabilities, have taken action in investing billions of dollars, tapping Silicon Valley stalwarts and creating software weapons.
VW aims to develop 60% of software in-house, up from about 10% currently. The automaker is investing 27 billion euros ($31 billion) over the next five years to drive its software pivot.
“Basically, the story is that if I do software in-house, I’d save a lot of money because I’m not enriching my suppliers anymore,” Markus Baum of consultancy Roland Berger told DW.
Battle for software talent
Automakers’ software ambitions are expected to drive a three- to four-fold increase in demand for software engineers by 2030, consultancy McKinsey says, putting the industry in direct competition with tech companies with deeper pockets for software talent that is already in short supply. The European Commission estimates that currently 500,000 IT professionals are needed in Europe.
“It’s a big problem if you’re looking to build all the software resources in Europe only. And even worse to do it only in Germany. Our customers think that if you do it globally, it’s in somehow manageable,” Baum said, adding that his customers in the automotive industry are planning to set up software development centers in Asia.
For automakers like VW, a big part of the problem is their image among young software professionals. Their entrenched hierarchies, obsession with process, endemic bureaucracy, lack of specialized careers, influential unions, and location, often in smaller cities like Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt, often push them into the pecking order of attractive tech employers.
VW takes the criticism on the chin. It set up a separate software unit, CARIAD, with a more agile working culture. He says he is also working on reforming other business units.
“With Volkswagen being such a big company, it’s only natural that we have different facets coexisting: in short, an old Volkswagen and a new one that we’re trying to build with this transformation,” said Linde, who is also responsible for driving the cultural change in the company. “We are working to make it more agile, to reduce hierarchies and to improve the working culture. We are doing everything to be attractive to the technological talents of the market.”
Edited by: Hardy Graupner