Horses’ hooves can be heard clattering outside. Inside, four men hastily leaf through one book after another, remove pictures from the walls and rummage through drawers. The information their guide referred to has to be hidden in here somewhere. He had only given them 20 minutes to solve the puzzle and escape. The countdown has been running ever since. At 7 minutes and 3 seconds, Gerd Schick opens a cabinet to the right of the door and finds the last piece of the puzzle. “Good job,” says guide and instructor Frank Schönfelder. “You can now advance.”
What sounds like a visit with friends to an escape room is actually part of Volkswagen’s electrification campaign. Zwickau will begin producing the compact ID.* this fall already – which is why the plant in Saxony is one of the first sites to provide comprehensive e-mobility training for its employees. Three thousand production workers alone will complete the training center’s e-mobility program, which is preparing them for the new production requirements. “We don’t just want to provide information and training, we also want to instill enthusiasm,” says Daniel Stolka from the Volkswagen Lean Academy, which developed the program together with the Volkswagen Training Institute and the Zwickau training center. That explains the playful introduction in the three “E-motion rooms” where participants explore the history of e-mobility – from the 19th to the 21st century.
Gerd Schick and his colleagues work their way through the training stations. They watch videos on battery production and high-speed charging, take quizzes on occupational safety, and familiarize themselves with the Modular Electric Toolkit (MEB). The new platform will be the foundation for the upcoming generation of e-vehicles powering Volkswagen’s breakthrough to e-mobility. Ranges suitable for everyday use, spacious interiors and affordable prices are all expected to help achieve this breakthrough.
Zwickau will make only MEB-based cars in the future – so the platform will also be the basis for Schick’s work. In his nearly 30-year career at Volkswagen Sachsen, the 56-year-old has already witnessed the shift in production from the Trabant to the Golf. So he is hardly afraid of entering a new age of e-mobility. “A car is a car,” he notes dryly.
Change of scene. The Audi training center in Ingolstadt. Future automotive mechatronics technicians Andreas Hüttinger (16) and Max Pfaffenzeller (18) lean over a panel with various electrical connections. They see red and black cables, grey boxes. They check for current with a testing device. It shows none. So everything is safe. Max nods to Andreas. They have solved their first problem.
Over the past two years, everyone at Audi’s sites in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm has passed through the small measurement lab. Or at least everyone starting an apprenticeship as an automotive mechatronics technician. “This job description is changing faster than you can imagine,” says instructor Rupert Kaindl. Good mechatronics technicians will need not just a passion for working on machines, but also an understanding of electrical engineering. “You can’t see or touch electricity, so mechatronics technicians increasingly need to think in the abstract. In the future, mechatronics technicians will have to be electricians as well. That is exactly what we want our training to prepare them for.”
Kaindl describes Audi’s e-mobility training program as a “hybrid learning concept.” Hybrid in the sense of combining digital and analogue methods, as well as theory and practice. The apprentices often learn at their own pace on their tablets – and then engage in teamwork. “At first I thought some people’s minds might wander during the partner exercises,” says Kaindl. “But I was wrong. The tandem work is especially valuable and well received by the apprentices.” Tests and checks take place at regular intervals, to foster both feedback and a sense of accomplishment. As individually oriented as the learning process is, the goal of the program is always the same: at the end of the apprenticeship each automotive mechatronics technician should be able to work on electric cars, take them out of commission and put them back into commission again.
In his free time apprentice Andreas Hüttinger enjoys working on his moped, which he bought a year ago. “It’s something I really enjoy,” he says. His career choice as well has to do with combustion engines – but less so as time goes by. “Audi is moving full speed ahead toward e-mobility, so it’s important for my future to know a lot about electric drives,” he says. Julia Habermeier, who started an apprenticeship at the same time as Andreas, sees the situation similarly. E-cars are very practical, says the 17-year-old. “You don’t have to go to gas stations anymore, instead you can just charge the battery at home.”
More than 300 apprentices have gone through the high-voltage training thus far – and there is a big demand for them at the company. “Many departments – including quality assurance, production and technical development – need people who can work on electric vehicles,” says Kaindl. The apprentices therefore have good job prospects. And many elements of their high-voltage education have long since been incorporated into further training programs for experienced mechatronics technicians.
Back to Zwickau. A mere four hours after his training began, Schick is already handling the most important components of the new electric cars – albeit only in virtual reality. Instructor Schönfelder gives him a data headset and shows him how to manipulate the charging device and air-conditioning compressor. He occasionally places his hand on Schick’s shoulder to guide him gently in the right direction. Within just a few minutes Schick is maneuvering confidently in virtual space. He identifies the connections for the coolant feed and high-voltage battery, and answers questions. He hardly notices the rugged coastal landscape outside the virtual window. “You did well,” announces Schönfelder when the exercise is over. Virtual confetti rains down, making Schick laugh.
The last training stations. Schick and his colleagues are now practicing on real connections. They connect the charging socket, drive system and performance electronics for the first time on a panel. Lamps light up to show them when they’ve done it right. The plug connections are not that different from those on a Golf, says Schick. If one doesn’t fit right, he can tell from the resistance. “Nothing can go wrong.”
The apprentices in Ingolstadt have also mastered their virtual reality training. Now they stand at a blue Audi e-tron** and have to show how well they can already work on a real electric car. “At the beginning it’s all about your safety – you have to check whether the high-voltage system is active,” warns instructor Kaindl. Max Pfaffenzeller (18) picks up the measuring device and skillfully finds the values. As with the exercise panel before, everything is safe. At the beginning of his second year of the apprenticeship he decided to specialize in systems and high-voltage technology. “I find electronics really interesting,” he says. And what will he do when he finishes the apprenticeship? “I’d love to train to become a foreman.”
New models: The Volkswagen Group is advancing a new age of individual mobility and bringing nearly 70 new e-car models onto the market over the next ten years. These new electric vehicles will include members of the Volkswagen ID. family and the Audi e-tron. The Group will invest more than 30 billion euros in e-mobility by 2023 alone.
New expertise: The brands are preparing their employees for e-mobility with a large number of training programs. The Group recently honored outstanding projects with its Education Award. The e-mobility training center in Zwickau and the hybrid learning concept for automotive mechatronics technicians at Audi were among the recipients. An international jury selected the best projects in the following categories: digital learning formats in vocational training, digital learning formats in further training, technical transformation and cultural transformation.
* Volkswagen ID.: study
** Audi e-tron (power consumption combined in kWh/100 km: 26.2 – 22.6* (WLTP); 24.6 – 23.7* (NEDC); CO2 emissions combined in g/km: 0*)