‘Engineering for a better world’ means finding solutions to meet the challenges that our customers as well as consumers face. This requires a team effort and a continual influx of fresh ideas. For that very reason, training and preparing the next generation of professionals is a win-win for GEA, its customers and for society, and is a task that GEA takes very seriously.

In July, for the first time ever, GEA gathered more than 50 of its apprentices and dual-system student trainees from its technical and business departments to an innovation workshop at the GEA site in Oelde, Germany. The event, facilitated by seven moderators from the GEA Innovation Team, was used to generate ideas and concepts around the future of packaging. In particular, participants were engaged in brainstorming about more efficient, customer-oriented solutions and alternatives to plastic packaging – a key challenge in industry. 

This was the first OneGEA innovation workshop for apprentices and work study students and it was a great success! It’s so important for the trainees to engage on the topic of innovation as soon as possible because they are extremely open to new ideas and ways of doing things at this time in their lives. 

– Nicola Austermann, GEA work study student, GEA Innovation team member and workshop coordinator

Innovation – OneGEA style

In addition to having the chance to come up with new ideas based on a real life challenge, the workshop provided the trainees with a close up view of how a global company like GEA approaches innovation management; how the innovation process is structured, including a short overview of the current projects and how GEA employees can participate. The students were pleased to hear that junior GEA employees are invited to compete for a chance to participate in MassChallenge Switzerland, which provides companies with innovative ideas access to a global network of mentors and venture capital investors.

The workshop also provided participants with an understanding of:

  • the difference between an ‘innovation’ and an ‘improvement’ 
  • how incremental and disruptive innovation contributes to growth
  • the importance of inviting all GEA employees to engage with the topic of innovation to ensure diverse perspectives and that knowledge is effectively harnessed  
  • why an innovation must solve a customer’s problem or add value to their business

“Young people are close to new technologies – new ways of thinking and business models,” says Wolfgang Deis, Innovation Manager at GEA. “Our mid-managers bring experience to the equation and must ultimately decide if an idea shows potential to be further developed, and if not, why. They are also role models for younger team members and shepherd our innovation campaigns through the pipeline. We need both in our teams, including in some cases, external partners, to complement new competencies and to achieve success,” explains Deis.

All work and no play…

Nurturing Next-Generation Innovations
Innovation workshop with GEA apprentices and dual-system student trainees, Oelde, Germany, July 2018

Despite the seriousness of the topic, the come-as-you-are workshop in Oelde was organized to provide an inspiring, yet low-key and comfortable environment to ensure that ideas flowed freely and that participants had fun as well. Following a discussion about market trends around packaging, the participants were split into small groups for an intensive brainstorming session (sprint), during which they were also asked to take into consideration things like: the increasing demand for personalized packaging, as well as the important role that online shopping plays today and its impact on packaging. And, as in real life, their ideas needed to meet a few key requirements: that food, for example, reach the end consumer safely; the packaging have appeal and that their prototypes should use the least amount of material possible, particularly plastic.

Each group then had the opportunity to visualize two prototypes which were then presented and tested in front of the entire group and judged according to three criteria: safety, creativity and potential – in light of the market trends discussed earlier in the day. The team spirit that came out of the sessions was carried over into the late afternoon and early evening with well-earned barbecue for all participants and organizers on the grounds of GEA in Oelde.

I’m really pleased with the commitment shown by our trainees through their contributions and ideas. They have demonstrated and understood the importance of pulling together – and in the same direction – and have been quick to grasp what we mean by OneGEA, our innovation strategy and focus areas.

– Heinz Westbomke, GEA Training Manager

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As a large global company, GEA has many opportunities for young people, including students, to engage with and contribute to our business. We offer diverse international apprenticeship and student trainee opportunities outside of Germany as well. Check us out!