Attracting talents and skills: interview with Hamburger Hochbahn CEO Henrik Falk

Attracting talents and skills

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Faced with recruiting challenges, the world of public transport must expand and attract new potential employees that have proven harder to integrate into the industry. This need to integrate a more diverse range of workers could actually be a positive opportunity for the industry: as stated in our third CEO Forum in 2018, recent studies have proven that companies that are diverse perform better, and this is also true for public transport. Even though the challenge that diversity presents is often discussed through the lenses of gender equality or facilitating access for mobility-impaired persons, there are a broad range of situations that need addressing so that they can be improved.

We sat down with Henrik Falk, Chief Executive Officer of Hamburger Hochbahn, to discuss how his organisation is addressing these challenges.

Hamburg has changed a lot lately, welcoming an average of 10,000 new inhabitants every year since 2010. New urban development projects are closely linked with your challenges as a public transport organisation.

Could you explain how Hochbahn has anticipated these developments, notably in terms of Human Resources?

At the beginning of my term as CEO we updated the company strategy, HOCHBAHN #2030, in order to address the changes in the city and the mobility market, and anticipate upcoming challenges. Our main strategic focus in Human Resources was to build a strong employer brand. Various marketing activities strengthen this brand and aim to attract the people with the right skills. At an early stage we reshaped our HR organisation to be well prepared for the future. One of the changes was that we implemented a highly effective recruiting team. Thanks to this re-organisation, we are able to recruit about 500 employees per year. Currently, we mainly recruit bus drivers, needed to expand our services. On top of that, we recruit people with a wide array of skills for very diverse positions. What has changed is that a certain affinity for digital services is needed more and more in all kinds of positions. Furthermore, we have streamlined our efforts to identify and address the further development needs of and opportunities for our existing workforce.

In your communications, one often finds the tagline ‘For Hamburg, with Hamburg Für. Hamburg. Mit Hamburg’. Can you explain what it means?

The slogan ‘Für Hamburg, Mit Hamburg’ is mainly used when communicating within our public consultation programme. Our most important current projects, like the massive metro network extension, will influence many inhabitants’ lives and therefore we are already consulting the general public, and at an early stage of planning. All of these activities strengthen the Hochbahn brand as an important local stakeholder. Being firmly rooted in the city of Hamburg and being a public company owned by the city is what sets Hochbahn apart from other actors in the field of mobility: we know Hamburg and its inhabitants well and we care for their well-being. Accompanying the development of the city is not only a question of numbers, it is also about integrating new cultures and greater diversity.

we know Hamburg and its inhabitants well and we care for their well-being

As a local organisation, how do you perceive your role in supporting these changes?

Hochbahn is one of the largest employers in Hamburg. Thanks to our many users, our infrastructure and vehicles visible everywhere in the city, we are closely linked to the public image of Hamburg. As a big local stakeholder, we have a special responsibility for shaping not only the image of the city, but also the way we live together. As a harbour city, Hamburg has always prided itself on its cultural diversity. At Hochbahn we aim to use the potential inherent in such diversity. To this end, we have made diversity one of our strategic initiatives and placed our diversity management in the hands of a diversity expert. We are deeply convinced that diversity strengthens our company and puts us in a good position for future challenges. We welcome people of different cultures, backgrounds, abilities and characters. Our employees come from more than 50 different nations and we pride ourselves on being a role model for the successful integration of such a high number of different backgrounds and cultures.

Hochbahn has distinguished itself by taking strong positions in favour of diversity, for example by becoming a partner of ‘Hamburg zeigt Flagge’. How did this idea emerge? How did your workforce react to this initiative? Has it had any impact internally?

Traditionally, there has been a big and active LGBTQI community in Hamburg in general, and at HOCHBAHN in particular. So it was a natural process to become a partner of ‘Hamburg zeigt Flagge’. Every year during Christopher Street Week, we hoist the rainbow flag on the roof of our headquarters. This year, we will participate more actively in the parade for Christopher Street Day, possibly with our own float. Our activities have helped to make LGBTQI people more visible and part of the conversation at HOCHBAHN. Our workforce reacted very positively to our involvement.

We are deeply convinced that diversity strengthens our company and puts us in a good position for future challenges

You have also initiated a training programme with migrants. Could you tell us what led to such an initiative?

In 2017 we started our first training programme with 16 migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Cameroon. The aim was to fully qualify them as bus drivers. The programme is demanding, as it includes German language classes on top of the driving training. Each of the attendees had an experienced bus driver as a personal coach, who helped them grow into the company. The programme proved to be very successful, with 10 of the attendees already working as bus drivers for HOCHBAHN right now. For this reason, we started a new programme in 2018 and are looking forward to welcoming more new colleagues. In cooperation with the Hamburger Ausbildungszentrum (HAZ) we also offer young migrants internships in various fields.

Automation, digitalisation, client centricity: it seems that Human Resources managers in the public transport industry will have to tackle a lot of challenges in the upcoming years. How have you prepared for that?

At Hochbahn we are well prepared to tackle all challenges. Our personnel development programme is set up to close potential skill gaps in terms of digitalisation. And of course, we will need to attract more specialists on the labour market like all the other big employers. In my opinion, what matters most in view of the changes ahead are the right mindset and attitudes about the future. We reinforce that by giving all employees – regardless of their job description – the opportunity to experience new and different ways of working, for example in the setting of flexible work routines using design thinking methods. In my view, the key to success is enabling all employees to grow and develop, to try and learn.

This is a shortened version of an article published in Public Transport Trends 2019, UITP’s flagship publication released every two years. Read the full interview – and many more – in Public Transport Trends 2019!

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