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Transformation in the Automotive Industry: 7.1 million Euro in Funding for Southern Westphalia
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action is providing 7.1 million euro in funding for the “ATLAS—Automotive Transformation Platform in Southern Westphalia” research project. Small and mid-sized companies will be working with the University of Siegen to better prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.
Southern Westphalia is the third-largest industrial region in Germany and a hub for the automotive industry, dominated in Germany by small and mid-sized firms. With over 500 companies and roughly 52,000 employees, the automotive industry is an important economic pillar and decisive employment factor in southern Westphalia. The changeover from classical combustion engine to electric vehicles has brought with it far-reaching structural changes that have taken an oversized impact on small and mid-sized parts suppliers in particular. Yet today’s industrial players are also facing transformational challenges related to energy shortages, climate change, digitization, and a lack of skilled employees.
The “ATLAS—Automotive Transformation Platform in Southern Westphalia” project, set to be funded for 7.1 million euro by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action and with the involvement of the University of Siegen, is focused on precisely these issues. It aims to establish regional transformation networks to support small and mid-sized firms in the automotive sector, among others, with the upcoming transformation processes, including for example the introduction of sustainable new digital business models and the training of employees. The ATLAS approach is oriented towards clear participation and social partnership. Working eye-to-eye with companies, employees, unions, and works councils, the project is tasked with finding comprehensive solutions and helping the industry better prepare itself for the future. Southern Westphalia is intended to serve as a demonstration of how digital transformation opportunities can be converted into sustainable benefits for companies and employees, the project's initiators say. As such, ATLAS fits into a series of large-scale projects and initiatives to promote the economic structure of South Westphalia and the regional innovation ecosystem.
Strong regional association
The far-reaching structural changes facing the automotive sector cannot always be managed alone, especially for small and mid-sized firms. Hence the reason why the ATLAS project is borne by a strong regional association of universities, employer and employee associations, municipal districts, professional societies, and economic aid offices. Even during the application process, IG Metall played a significant role in enabling and promoting the project in cooperation with the regional job centers, Südwestfalen Agentur GmbH, Automotive Center Südwestfalen GmbH and the VIA association. As the lead authorized negotiator for IG Metall Olpe, André Arenz took part in the project from the start and contributed to its successful approval. In ATLAS, he sees above all else a major benefit for the region: “ATLAS can help us make the region ready for the future. We see participation and qualification of employees as especially crucial,” Arenz says.
Coordination of the project falls to the gemeinnützige Gesellschaft für digitalisierte und nachhaltige Zusammenarbeit (DNZ gGmbH), a non-profit organization, as well as six other project partners. Alongside the University of Siegen, IG Metall NRW, Fachhochschule Südwestfalen, Gesellschaft zur Wirtschafts- und Strukturförderung im Märkischen Kreis mbH, agentur mark GmbH and Digital Hub Management GmbH are all involved. “Together with our partners as well as the companies and employees in the region, we intend to develop practical and innovative digitization solutions, and in this way turn southern Westphalia into the first model region for sustainable transformation of SME in the automotive supply industry,” explains Dr. Muhamed Kudic, managing director at DNZ gGmbH and head of the Siegen office of the center of excellence in Mittelstand 4.0.
Driving change: Support for the automotive industry in southern Westphalia
The future of the automotive industry relies significantly on the development of future-proof, sustainable, and in many cases digitally assisted business models. The project calls for the setup and establishment of support structures over the next three years. While concrete offers of knowledge transfer and exchange of experiences are expected from an innovative regional network, the implementation of the transformation strategy should be tested through field trials. The development of audience-specific qualification offerings is essential for building up competencies among the employees and aims to counteract the lack of skilled workers. Prof. Thomas Ludwig from the University of Siegen, the largest consortia partner for the project, states it clearly: “The qualification offers within ATLAS go hand in hand with the development of what are known as Minimum Viable Products (MVP), which are intended to bind qualification and innovation early in the process.” The conceptualization and development of the MVPs takes place directly in and with the companies, with the employees attending so-called 'transformation workshops’ to prepare them for the upcoming processes and to allow them to approach the coming changes with a positive viewpoint.”
With its socio/technical approach that focuses on people, the ATLAS project represents an important building block in the improvement of Siegen's socio-IT infrastructure, and in the mid- to long-term for the implementation and support similar projects in the region.