Ford front car hero

Ford of Europe's Skills Transition Strategy

Ford Motor Company is an American multinational automaker with headquarters in Michigan founded 118 years ago. It is Ford’s belief that freedom of movement drives human progress. The company provides vehicles and services that help create a better world, not only by shrinking its footprint, but also by developing vehicle innovations that have a positive contribution to society. 

Ford is investing in its core business of designing, manufacturing, marketing, financing and servicing its portfolio of cars, SUVs, trucks and commercial vehicles. The firm is also pursuing sustainable growth through emerging opportunities in key areas such as electrification, self-driving vehicles and mobility services & solutions and connected vehicle services. Ford employs approximately 186,000 people worldwide, of which Ford of Europe, headquartered in Cologne/Germany employs 40,000 across 25 markets.

This case study represents one of the four finalist submissions for phase two of i4cp's 2021 Next Practice Awards. View other Next Practice Award case studies.

Business challenge

Ford Motor Company has a leading position in European and Global Commercial vehicles, and in some growing areas of passenger vehicles, generating around $32 bils revenue in Europe annually.

Both the retail and commercial markets are undergoing significant disruption, in part driven by a shift in customer behaviour, moves towards carbon-neutral transportation, and significantly increasing demands for connectivity and integration with devices and cloud-based information systems. 

To retain and build upon Fords market position requires an increase in agility and capability in the business, and for capability and talent acquisition to be matched to today’s and future challenges.

Key Elements which we expect to achieve include:

  • Re-skilling and redeploying personnel with multiple years’ experience in designing, developing, testing and industrializing internal-combustion technologies
  • Competing for talent against tech companies outside the automotive industry in the fields of software and features integration
  • Improving mix flexibility across technical and business disciplines
  • Instilling a continuous learning culture so capability evolves as fast as the business environment

Solution – Scope & Innovation

As part of the fundamental re-set of the Ford of Europe business, and utilising Agile principles; four priority ‘Sprints’ were initiated, covering Skills, Environment, Innovation and Digitisation.

The Skills Transition Sprint was targeted at addressing the large-scale upskilling and reskilling of employees with experience in ‘legacy’ technologies, to address the future engineering and feature definition needs for new products and services entering the European and Global markets.  It’s scope includes all parts of the business and all Skill Teams.

Ford in Europe has a proud history of fostering and nurturing talent and this remains a key business priority.  Workforce capability is crucial to the success of Ford and impacts our ability to be agile and respond to market needs. To build upon its market leadership and vision to be leader in automotive technology our competitive ability will depend on the upskilling of our workforce.

Intensive analysis was carried out on a European level across all skill teams to identify and verify current and future functional skills gaps and prioritise them. Highlighted skills gaps included: Electrification/ Electronics & Controls, Autonomous Vehicles, Data Science, Software Engineering and Management & Leadership.

The vision; to attract new talent as well as expanding skill sets among existing employees, delivering end-to-end process capability across all aspects of the business. The key principles of the upskilling programme included:

  • Raise overall business capability across key future and existing disciplines
  • Foster a continuous learning culture
  • Break down internal functional barriers
  • Targeted, sustainable, talent acquisition program
  • Protect Ford’s intellectual property
  • Champion diversity, equity & inclusion in everything we do

In Ford of Germany, under the functional leadership of the Product Development Skill Transitions team, where the most immediate requirements were captured, a ramp-up plan was implemented to address closing the skills gap until 2022, in a staggered approach which fully supports the business cycle plan delivery. New re- and upskilling concepts were developed in cooperation with external intellectual partners (universities and Ford’s Research & Advanced Center); this led to the conceptualisation of numerous Ford-tailored, compact courses e.g. on Battery-Electrified Vehicles, Connectivity & Communication as well as Cyber Security. The courses are set up in a modular structure to allow a customer-focussed choice and application. Some of the courses are based on a “train-the-trainer" methodology, which allows continuous internal content multiplication. After successful pilots, these courses have now been made available for all Skill Teams.

In Ford of Britain Skills Sprint, the standards and scope for a number of programmes and initiatives were identified and developed in partnership with various Universities and Educational Providers across England to build technical and business skills across the business. The UK was able to benefit from the unique funding opportunity of the Government Apprenticeship Levy to fund a large part of the upskilling with qualifications ranging from foundational to post graduate level including:

  • Training of new apprentices hired into the business: Expanded new hire Apprenticeship recruitment campaigns launched in 2020 and 2021 to support the future engineering and products and services requirements. These involved hiring 140 new apprentices into Engineering, IT, Data Science and Supply Chain Management, through virtual assessment centres during the COVID pandemic, who will have the opportunity to receive training funded by the UK Apprentice Levy while learning on the job and experiencing various aspects of the business through various job rotations.
  • Training of existing employees: Several programmes have been launched and are in progress of being established for existing employees including: Masters in Sustainable Automotive Electrification, Smart Connected Autonomous Vehicles and Senior Leadership; Degrees in Engineering, Digital User Experience and Data Science; other apprenticeships in Software Engineering and Coaching.
  • Ford are also partnering with the UK Government on several initiatives to close the skills gaps by working with disadvantaged young people to support them in building thriving sustainable careers. These involve varying length contracts and flexible training courses, to help individuals develop skills to fill vacancies or progress into new roles such as Software Developers

Results & Impact

The Ford of Europe upskilling programmes formally launched in September 2020. Sufficient data is not yet available to determine its impact on the organisation. Governance teams have been set up for each programme to monitor progress of candidates, address any issues which may arise and share best practice amongst all teams and training providers.

In the UK over the past 9 months over 200 existing employees have already enrolled on apprenticeship programmes with plans to hire over 450 new apprentices, and forecast to have upskilled around 1,400 employees with an investment of over £28 million in training by 2028.

In Germany, 160 employees have been upskilled on an expert level in the various skill categories with approx. 150 additional employees planned to be upskilled by year end 2021. Within the modular scheme, approx. 2,000 employees have attended the various basic skill sessions and courses.

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, strengthening the company’s overall talent strategy to address future skills gaps. Based on the feedback gathered, there are plans in place for further programmes to be implemented across Europe to continue to close the key skills gaps.

One of the key enablers of achieving this upskilled workforce is the strengthening of a learning culture. In today's highly competitive global marketplace and the technological revolution we are experiencing, continuous development for all is essential. Employees are encouraged to share what they know with others in the classroom, in conversations, and by coaching and mentoring with the goal of building and maintaining individual and company knowledge and skills. By fostering team development and a learning culture this ultimately may result in innovation and improved business results. Personal development tools and online learning platforms such as Degreed and LinkedIn Learning have also been introduced and offers a range of learning resources to help employees globally create meaningful Individual Development Plans, learn new tools, demonstrate new skills and explore new ways of doing business.


The Skills Transition is in the delivery phase. The Management team are fully committed to prioritising learning as part of the working week, for employees to attend workshops and lectures and complete their studies.

The design and implementation of the upskilling programmes presented some key learnings including ensuring a clear understanding of what the company wants to achieve from the upskilling programmes.  Also recognising this is the first, albeit significant, step on a journey and this is more than training, it requires a coordinated approach from the business which is driven through the corporate and management culture. 

Given the outstanding results obtained so far by the company in Europe, the Skills Transition team is sharing its learnings and best practices with global partners.