What is Germany getting right?

(cross posted from my Gartner blog)
Andrew McAfee recently posted on the dire state of graduate employment in the US. His work on the impact of technology on employment is well worth a read, I reviewed his book here.

Here in little old Germany, the graduate job market is rather different.

Unemployment among graduates in Germany one year after leaving their institution is at 4% and below, compared with a seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate of 5.9%, according to a survey by HIS-HF, a higher education statistics agency.

So what is Germany doing right? Despite Euro doom and gloom talk, the German economic fundamentals are in relatively good shape. Exports are up again, and domestic spending is less anemic than before. But the answer isn’t just in the short term economy.

There is a broader HR and societal issue at play too. As a foreigner living in Germany, I have been stuck by the strength of the apprentence culture here, and not just in the traditional trades. It seems to me that the universities and industry work more closely together than in many other countries to produce the sort of graduates that the labour market requires, while still giving space for studying those things that make you a better human being. It is as if there is some sort of social contract between corporations, academia and society. Most organizations have strong graduate recruitment and development programmes. Interns are paid a reasonable cost of living sum, and intern work is aligned with university study. When I worked for that large German software company I co-supervised a masters student, who worked part-time in my department. We then hired her, and she is now a very successful consultant. This model is common throughout German industry, with an especially strong tradition in manufacturing. Have a look at Porsche, for instance.

Building a sustainable workforce requires corporations to focus on the long term development of the workforce, and not merely short termist hiring. German companies often have someone with the job title HR Marketing, and their role is to build a long term employment brand to attract candidates early. Check out the work of Armin Trost for more about this.

It also requires universities to develop programmes that align with the longer term needs of business and society. While US universities dominate the rankings, I’m not sure that they have everything right, if the recent reports from Florida are anything to go by.

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Deck chairs and competitive advantage?

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photo via the cc flickrstream of xingray  thanks

 

Via Yahoo! news.

German tourists can now reserve their poolside recliners before they have even left home.

The German arm of Thomas Cook, Europe’s second largest travel company, has been deluged with inquiries since announcing that holidaymakers at nine hotels in Turkey, Egypt and the Canary Islands can book recliners in advance for a fee.

Germans are famous around Europe for rising early to reserve recliners near the pool with their towels, and then going back to bed or eating a lengthy breakfast.

This often annoys tourists from other nations, but they will be unable to take advantage of the new service — it is valid only for holidaymakers booking their trips from Germany, Mathias Brandes, head of communications at Thomas Cook in Germany, said.

I’m not sure this would be particularly good for international poolside relations.

I should write some clever link to global HR systems, and the problems of trying to please everyone all of the time, but I won’t.

Ada Lovelace Day- Bertha Benz

Sometime ago Suw kicked this off .

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, we want to celebrate her achievements.

Well. Here we go. For this I have decided to go local and historical.  Ladenburg, where I live, is one of the cradles of the automotive industry. It is where the Benz family lived.  My Ada figure is Bertha Benz.

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Bertha Benz (née Ringer) (born 3 May 1849 in Pforzheim, Germany, married inventor Karl Benz on 20 July 1872, and died 5 May 1944 in Ladenburg), was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance.

On 5 August 1888 and without her husband’s knowledge, she drove her sons, Richard and Eugen, fourteen and fifteen years old, in one of Benz’s newly-constructed Patent Motorwagen automobiles—from Mannheim to Pforzheim—becoming the first person to drive an automobile over more than a very short distance. The distance was more than 106 km (more than sixty miles). Distances traveled before this historic trip were short, and merely trials with mechanical assistants. (From Wikipedia.)

Other interesting information about that trip. She repaired a fuel line blockage with a hairpin, and fixed the ignition with a garter.

Without this expedition, it is quite unlikely that Karl Benz would have had the successes that followed.  She took on the conventions of the time and proved to the world that this newfangled thing had a purpose.  Not only was this brave, but I reckon it was one of the greatest advertising and marketing moves in history. With this one trip, she turned the Patent Motorwagen 3 from perpetual beta into the real thing. Just think what impact this would have had on the male ego of 1888.

It seems to me that this was a family business, and Bertha deserves just as much credit as Karl got.

There is now a sign posted route following that first drive.

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This is goodness, but next time you see a  Mercedes-Benz, pause, and think about Bertha.

As the automotive industry now faces its biggest crisis, it would do well to look to Bertha Benz’s legacy for inspiration.   Thanks Bertha for taking that drive.

Grokking d-land.

 

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photo from the saugeil flickr stream of  abbilder.

My readers will know by now that I’ve lived in Germany for a while now.

An Australian on-line twitter follower who cycles and does clever code stuff sent me this blog link.  Who says Twitter isn’t useful?

From what I can gather the blog is written by a 20 something ex-pat living in Berlin. It has the air of someone who thinks 40 is old, but anyway.

Ich werde ein berliner  is still a relatively  new blog, but I hope it has ausdauer. 

An example

Ordering coffee must be handled with extra care. If you have no clue about coffee varieties, stop reading this NOW and head to a bookstore to get a book on the topic. There will be plenty to choose from. Once you’re fluent in the language of caffeine, imagine a “coffee coolness pyramid” with “Latte Macchiato” at the bottom. Latte Macchiato has been the favorite since the mid-90s but then, it was picked up by the “wrong type of Germans”. Thankfully, German people discovered “Galao”, which is the exact same drink, just from Portugal. Put “Galao” above Latte Macchiato in our imagined pyramid. The next level is, surprisingly, plain Espresso. Many Germans who are considered “cool” by other Germans stopped worrying about what the current coffee specialty is, and now just order Espresso. This gives them the aura of being special, easy-going, and culturally versed. The tip of the pyramid though, would be to order “just a mug of filter coffee”, not because you like it, but to show you are an avant-garde intellectual who is too special to follow any trend. This is an advanced move not recommended for new arrivals in Germany. If you do it the wrong way, you will be seen as an uncultured “Proll” and your chances to earn respect from your German acquaintances are severely diminished. Alternatively, you can order beer (gives you an air of being connected with the working class, like a poor but brilliant artist), or Bio-nade, which is anti-Americanism in bottles.

 

Subscribed.

And now for something completely different.

Gefunden

Translation partly from here. with some minor edits. (a more poetic translation here.)

Ich ging im Walde
So vor mich hin,
Und nichts zu suchen,
Das war mein Sinn.

Im Schatten sah ich
Ein Blümlein stehn,
Wie Sterne blinkend,
Wie Äuglein schön.

Ich wollt es brechen,
Da sagt’ es fein:
Soll ich zum Welken
Gebrochen sein?

Mit allen Wurzeln
Hob ich es aus,
Und trugs zum Garten
Am hübschen Haus.

Ich pflanzt es wieder
Am kühlen Ort;
Nun zweigt und blüht es
Mir immer fort.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

I was walking in the woods
on a whim of mine,
and seeking nothing,
that was my intention.

In the shade I saw
A little flower standing
Like stars glittering
Like beautiful little eyes.

I wanted to pick it
When it said delicately:,
Should I just wilt if I were picked.

I dug it out with all Its little roots. And carried it to the garden at the
By the lovely house.

 

And replanted it
In this quiet spot;
Now it keeps branching out
And blossoms ever forth

 

Thanks to defrag’s twiiter about poetry and conferences for the idea.

I need to read some  poetry, go for a walk, and hang out with my

Blümlein

On European funding, Airbus and Software.

This post was lurking in my Live Writer, but then Mike’s post spurred me to dust it off and rework it a bit. Over on Techcrunch UK he was pretty damning of EU research funding for the Theseus and Quaero projects…EU taxpayers to fund $306m Google rival. No wonder the Yanks think we’re dumb

A couple of weeks ago Vinnie had a somewhat more gentle dig at European technology industry too.

Airbus A380 at SFO, from the flickrstream of Telstar Logistics

Vinnie picked up on the Airbus comment at Cebit and said:

The Airbus for the European IT Industry is what we need,” says the president of Bitkom, the leading high-tech industry association in Germany.You keep funding that, Europe. In fact, we would love to lease Airbuses and send our folks from Washington to Brussels so they can help you design and grow the program. That way it would also keep them away from our thousands of technology entrepreneurs. Our preferred way of delivering technology innovation.

I’d like to raise several points in response to Vinnie and Mike.

1. The assumption the US software industry is somehow subsidy free ignores the history of the software industry, and the huge role that the US government plays in funding software research and driving demand in the US. Check out this book by Martin Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass., 2003. Herewith a quote..

The likely prime reason for U.S. software supremacy is a paradoxical one –government support for the industry. The paradox arises from the fact that, although the United States is non-interventionist in principle, in practice it promoted the early industry massively by creating a market for computers and software through programs such as the SAGE project, the Department of Defense’s ADP program, and the NASA program, to mention only the largest..”

And this still goes on today. In fact the whole software industry owes a big debt of gratitude to the US government and its big wallet. I bet if we were to dig around into the history of many of the most successful US technology companies and products we would find a research funded project at its core. (Netscape and the browser- thanks NSCA, and oh, and indeed Google itself.)

2. The president of BITkom knows a whole lot more about software entrepreneurship than the quote implies. August-Wilhelm Scheer is the founder of the company that builds ARIS, one of the leading German software companies and a major global player in the BPM market. He is an entrepreneur, not a bureaucrat.

3. His main point about the power of Airbus not about subsidies or government meddling, but that Airbus iis a joint Anglo-French company, and that both countries could be more successful through deeper commercial collaboration. Scheer knows, as he is also a professor at Saarbrücken University, close to the french border.

4.I don’t have a lot of details on the French Quaero project and the background for the split but to call the Theseus project a Google rival is missing the main point of this project. But I guess it makes a neat newspaper headline.

This is what the Theseus project is actually about.

So the Theseus project is not intended to develop a new Internet search engine to compete with Google and which could be used in every situation that crops up in the digital data world. The data contained on the Internet are simply far too heterogeneous and chaotic for that. What’s more, at the end of the project, there won’t even be an Internet platform – probably not even a physical product, says Thomas Huber, press spokesperson for the Theseus project. Instead, Theseus aims to create standards for semantic searches within specific areas. With partners from the business community, notably Siemens and SAP, and research associations such as the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and various universities, Theseus therefore consists of subprojects which focus on specific application scenarios. As a spokeswoman from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology explains, these have been selected in advance by companies and the Ministry itself on the grounds that they appear to be particularly promising.

The project is essentially about semantics, standards and the longer term future of the web, and it hopes to drive both fundamental and applied research.

Technology Research projects require funding. VC’s don’t fund primary research, and very few companies can afford to take the long term focus that it requires. Let’s take a well known example, a research project that evolved over about 20 years. The work started in the the late 1970’s and in 1987 a research alliance was formed between Erlangen-Nuremberg University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits within the framework of the European Union-funded EUREKA project EU147. This led to the MP3 format. No EU funding, no IPod, I guess.

A while ago I argued that Europe needs to invest more in pure software research.

It is about time that the governments in Europe started to invest in the future of IT rather than just subsidizing cows.

Here in Europe I reckon governments need to do two things: fund research and help create an environment where smart people can build businesses with those innovations. The German government funding this research is a step in the right direction, but governments in Europe also need to do a whole lot more to encourage an environment to exploit those innovations. Sometimes this means getting out the way.

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Disclosure: As part of my academic work at the University of Karlsruhe, I have a connection with the project.

Corruption kills.

James Farrar, SAP VP for CSR kindly invited me up to Berlin, with James Governor, Dennis Howlett, Michael Schwandt and Stephanie Raabe. We had a good, open session on web 2.0 and what it could mean for Transparency International. Dennis and James have both blogged about the meeting, so I won’t repeat what they said here.

A couple of things hit home from the meeting. In our little enterprisey blogging echo chamber, it is unlikely that anything we post or read could lead someone’s life being threatened. Egos may be dented here and there, tempers may flair at worst.

But when your organisation is

Transparency International, the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, brings people together in a powerful worldwide coalition to end the devastating impact of corruption on men, women and children around the world. TI’s mission is to create change towards a world free of corruption.

The folks at Transparency International and the people they advise sometimes risk life and limb.

On reading the annual reports it made me realise that the Constant Gardener was more fact than fiction. I read of whistle blowers disappearing, and the extent and depth of corruption is numbing.

“Corruption is bleeding Africa to death and the cost is borne by the poor. Some estimates put money corruptly leaving the continent at greater than that arriving as aid. Much of the money is banked in
Britain or our overseas territories and dependencies and sometimes British citizens or companies are involved in corrupt deals. We want our government to get tough on corruption.”

– Hugh Bayley MP, Chair; House of Commons Africa All Party Parliamentary Group,29 March 2006

I’m glad that TI are exploring how web 2.0 can raise awareness, drive funding and build a stronger link to the community. And I believe it can help make TI even more relevant than it is today. At the same time, they are right to proceed cautiously. There is a lot more at stake than I realised before I visited them.

As I slip my latte and blog about ERP, it is humbling to think that

Over one billion people lack clean drinking water; close to three billion lack adequate sanitation. In 2006, Transparency International co-founded the Water Integrity Network to bring transparency and integrity to the water sector.

We can all do our bit to fight corruption. It is sand in the gears of capitalism at best, and at worst it is counterfeit heart valves,and substandard concrete that collapses at the slightest shudder. Markets are not free if they are corrupt. Even the most libertarian of thinkers, Milton Friedman, asserted that businesses have no social responsibility other than to increase profits and refrain from engaging in deception and fraud. It is unfortunate that the second half of this quote is often ignored. I’ll leave the broader discussion CSR and GRC for another post, save to say there is more to this than SOX 404.

If you cant see the videos head over to TIs’s youtube channel, a good 2.0esque step…)

Bribery and corruption require both supply and demand.

If you want to donate to TI, or just find out more about what they do, head over to the website. Give them some linklove while you are at it.

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