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Bosch seeks to big up UK engineering, says its global HR director

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Bosch’s most senior human resources director said the key to the German firm’s growth is engaging young people with science and technology skills as early as kindergarten, in the week the UK’s GDP results showed the economy had retracted by 0.2% in the first three months of 2012.

HR was granted an exclusive interview with Christoph Kübel (pictured), member of Bosch's board of management, responsible for HR, to investigate ways UK employers could learn from their German counterparts

The manufacturer, which by the end of 2012 will employ 315,000 staff worldwide, including 4,300 in the UK and 118,000 in Germany, believes the path to growth is paved by recruiting and training the right staff. Bosch is aiming for 8% growth per year.

Kübel told HR: "There seems to be a gap between Germany and the UK in the take-up of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects by the young and the number of people going into engineering careers in the UK.

"This is an issue of perception and change must be brought in by employers as well as government and educational institutions.

"Bosch addresses the awareness gap with young people in a number of ways. In Germany, the 'Wissensfabrik' web portal ('knowledge factory') is a platform that enables German companies to get involved in the education of children of all ages and to support young entrepreneurs. Since the initiative was launched in 2005, the number of participating companies has risen to over 90. It is important to society to have excellent engineers, but this movement did not come from government. It was started by employers."

From Q4 2010 until Q4 2011, Germany experienced GDP growth of 2.5% compared to the UK's dismal 0%. But, although a Eurostat report at the start of May showed that for all 17 nations in the eurozone, the jobless rate rose again to 10.9% - the highest since the euro was formed in 1999 - Kübel is adamant HR directors in Europe and in the UK have an opportunity to promote business growth and nurture skills.

"At Bosch, we don't see a lack of applicants," he said. "But in the UK, there seems to be a lack of understanding about what engineers do and what career prospects they have. We are trying to do more to reach young people, to bring new talent into the sector.

"Our primary activity in the UK is the Bosch Technology Horizons Award, run with the Royal Academy of Engineering. The award takes the format of a competition for 14 to 24-year-olds, who submit essays on engineering."

He added: "Our UK businesses are involved in a number of programmes that support local schools, encouraging students to take up STEM subjects and promoting careers in engineering. But engineering can lead to various fields and we have invested £200 million in training our staff in future technologies - especially in emerging markets - and we are helping staff gain experience by sending them abroad.

"We are carrying out work with female staff, to help women move into senior positions. This has been discussed at board level and we have clear targets until the end of this year. In saying that, we have only 2% attrition rates globally and 84% of employees responded to our most recent staff survey, saying they were 'proud to work at Bosch'."

A Bosch lifer, Kübel had been in his present role for only 100 days when he met HR. He started his career with the company on a graduate scheme and then worked in the logistics department,

Kübel added: "Our staff are the core element to our growth strategy - we can't realise growth without them. So our HR department is crucial."