Anyone who is stuck in an "escape room" is locked up and seeks the way to freedom. In this respect, the new training method with which Volkswagen prepares its employees in Wolfsburg for the construction of electric cars does not automatically evoke positive associations. At the plant, they are nevertheless proud of the idea with which Europe's largest car company wants to make the upheaval and the new drive technology "playful" tangible. And somehow it is true: VW, trapped in the old world of combustion engines, breaks out and reorients itself.
Business correspondent in Hamburg.
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By 2025, the Group intends to channel all 22,000 production employees at its headquarters through a new "eMotion Room" – part of the local location of the Volkswagen Group Academy, a division for retraining and further education. The core of the project is an escape room, as we know it from the trendy leisure game for families, friends and colleagues, which is now available in many cities. Only that participants in Wolfsburg do not have to find their way out of the haunted house, the tomb of the pharaoh or something similar. Instead, they use puzzles on e-mobility to make their way through three interconnected chambers.
50,000 employees need to be retrained
Such offers have already existed in Zwickau and Emden, where VW has converted its plants to electric cars, says Chief Human Resources Officer Gunnar Kilian. The experience is good. For this reason, the Group is "now implementing this successful concept at its main plant in Wolfsburg". So far, only combustion engines have rolled off the production line there. But in autumn, production of the all-electric ID.3 compact car will begin, only in partial assembly, in which prefabricated components are assembled. Full production will start next year. In 2026, Wolfsburg will get another electric model, an SUV the size of today's Tiguan. Of course, the escape room is not enough to teach the completely different design and to retrain mechanics for the new cars.
This requires completely different courses, which have already begun and cost a lot of money. Not only in Wolfsburg: In total, around 50,000 employees at Volkswagen AG's German plants will have to be prepared for the new tasks over the next few years, reports Head of Production Christian Vollmer. Nevertheless, the game should not only be fun, but pay off, even if only in the fight for the "regulars' table sovereignty", as an employee of the academy puts it. In other words, if VW employees know the roots and perspectives of e-mobility better, they can convey a good image to the outside world – as private ambassadors of the transformation.
It all starts in the 19th century
The first room transports visitors to the 19th century, in true style with patterned wallpaper, an old piano and brass-studded chandeliers. The second leads through the history of the Wolfsburg site into the present, the third into the future – with a futuristic touchscreen the size of a kitchen table. Everywhere tasks have to be solved in order to open exits and play freely, if necessary with the help of supervisors who look into the rooms via camera. Everything should be done within an hour, at least for most of the workers who come here.
About a third – mostly employees who work directly on the vehicle in production and are therefore particularly affected – then go to other stations that convey a variety of facts. From special features of cooling hoses in electric cars to safety in high-voltage technology. An "eMotion Day" is planned for each of these participants – i.e. they are released from work for the whole day.