Chief recruiter at deutsche bahn : “we don’t look at school grades”

Kerstin Wagner, chief recruiter at Deutsche Bahn, talks in an interview about a shortage of young talent, Instagram and videos instead of cover letters.

Ms. Wagner, why does no one want to become a train driver anymore??
That is not true. We have hired almost 5000 train drivers in the last five years. In the list of the Federal Employment Agency, the profession is listed as one with the greatest shortage of young people, but it is also a special profession. Unlike electronics technicians, there is no market to draw from. We train our train drivers ourselves, via vocational training or lateral entry. What is true, however: From a company’s perspective, the job market is currently tough and competitive.

To what extent?
Applicants can often choose where they want to work. The number of school leavers will continue to shrink in the coming years – and we have competitors, think of the automotive industry or the German armed forces, who are also looking for students, skilled workers and graduates.

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How many new employees are you looking for?
This year there are 8000 new employees, the same number as in previous years. Over the next ten years, we’ll be hiring 80,000 new employees.

In which areas?
There are the typical railroad jobs such as train driver, dispatcher, train attendant, and jobs that are more invisible to customers such as track builder, electronics technician, and mechatronics technician. Among the academics we are mainly looking for engineers and IT experts.

How do you promote yourself?
Flexible working hours are an important issue, adapted to different life phases. In the last collective agreement, we also decided with our two unions that our employees could choose whether they wanted more money, shorter working hours or more vacation days.

What do employees choose?
We do not know yet. We are currently in the phase where employees can choose. We will know more by the middle of the year. The decision then applies from 1. January 2018.

Would you say employee priorities have changed?
Of course, factors such as work-life balance and flexible working hours are playing an increasingly important role. However, a frequent question in job interviews is still whether it is a secure job with development opportunities. And the culture of the company is very important to many. They want to feel good.

You started a new campaign today to attract employees.

Our approach is that we are good, but not perfect, and always want to get better. That’s why we also show a sign in the commercials that says the train is cancelled, or an IT expert who is annoyed that the wifi in the train is not working right now.

You play on your weaknesses.
That doesn’t quite hit the mark. We want to come across as genuine, authentic. That’s why our posters don’t show models, but employees.

How did you choose?
We made phone calls around the company, talked to trainers and plant managers. Out of just over 100 prospects, we initially selected 30 to be featured in videos and on posters.

Are these your media?
Of course we still go on TV and put up big posters, of course people see us at the stations, but we are increasingly online, in the social networks.

How do you use the channels?
We target academics on Xing and Linkedin. The younger ones elsewhere: on Facebook we post the stories of our campaign, or trainees answer questions from users in a live chat. Completely unfiltered. We show our videos on YouTube and cooperate with influencers like Mr. Bergmann and Klein aber Hanna. Instagram is all about a look behind the scenes. On Snapchat, the campaign’s protagonists each take care of our account for a day, talk about their lives, show what they’re up to at work.

So it’s all about proximity.
Yes, exactly. This is also why we use virtual reality goggles. I can explain to someone what their job would be like, or they have the chance to experience the job directly once they have the glasses on their nose. For example, a student might see an electronics technician running around the maintenance plant on an ICE fixing something there. Such insights are exciting – and I can’t bring ICE to school, after all. This also goes down very well at trade shows.

What could be the idea of tomorrow?

What we are currently concerned about are so-called chat bots. There are questions that applicants ask again and again, and starting this week, our colleagues are programming and trying out whether these questions could not also be answered automatically in a chat. We have to think about at what point do I need a human and what can the machine do, quickly and at any time of day.

Speaking of automation. Will the locomotive driver still exist in 50 years??
This is a question that applicants also ask us. Of course, digitization is an important driver of our time. We need train drivers today, we’ll need train drivers in the next few years, that’s clear. But one thing is also certain: job profiles are changing, evolving.

Are employees afraid?
At least there is no reason to do so at DB. We have in the new collective agreement work 4.0 stated that every employee has a right to further training if their job description changes as a result of digitization. And it must be said: We have job security. There are no layoffs for operational reasons. That makes it easier to embrace change.

Until September you are looking for 3400 new trainees. Will that be easy?
We have a lot of applicants, but we have to make an effort.

We visit schools, attend trade fairs, give out internships, invite people to open castings.

How do you perceive the young people?

Many lack orientation. Some don’t know what they can do, what can be made of their talents, others how to apply or what to wear to an interview. We have put short information films about this on the Internet. And of course there are also girls and boys who are not even ready for training yet. With the Chance Plus program, we try to prepare them for a year of training.

Is it true that German and math skills are getting worse and worse?

We do not look at school grades.

Not at all?
We’ve discovered that we can’t rely on grades. We know how it can be at school sometimes, how much one’s own mood or a teacher can influence grades. Applicants must provide a certificate so we can see they have a degree, and pass our own online test. Among other things, this involves arithmetic and logical thinking, but also stamina and motivation – always tailored to the profession in which someone is interested.

Sounds radical.
Applicants don’t necessarily have to send us a cover letter either. Instead, we cooperate with the Berlin start-up Jobufo, through which applicants send us a 30-second video of themselves using their app. This is how we see the young people – and they have grown up with selfies and videos.

More on the topic

Shortage of skilled workers Berlin companies can’t find enough employees

Kerstin Wagner, born in Riedlingen in 1970, is head of the recruitment department at Deutsche Bahn. She studied business administration in Reutlingen and Reims. In 1995, she started at Siemens, where she held various HR roles that took her to Boston, USA, among other places. From 2003, Wagner built up the Placement and Recruiting Services department there and managed the internal transfer companies and the internal temporary employment agency within this framework. At Deutsche Bahn, Wagner has been since 2012. With more than 195,000 employees nationwide, the Group is one of the largest employers in Germany and the company with the most employees in Berlin.

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