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Reimagining the Future of Work in Transport

Future of transport work, Deutsche Bahn

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Germany’s national rail carrier, Deutsche Bahn, is a state-owned enterprise under the control of the German government, and was founded in 1994. Its long distance division, DB Fernverkehr, became semi-independent in 1999. The workplace age profile means high numbers of Germany’s long distance train drivers will retire in the next 10 years, and there is a recruitment challenge to find 3,000 new drivers a year. Circumstances today are vastly different to 30 or 40 years ago when some of the previous generations of drivers began their railway careers. Early difficulties to meet the recruitment target highlighted a need to address the wider future of work issues in transport for train drivers.  

It is also expected that the number of rail journeys made will increase as people switch more often to rail as a cleaner and more sustainable mode of transport than traveling by road or air.

Whilst increasing numbers of office workers are able to spend some time working from home, long distance train drivers work in shifts that may require them to start at 5 am one day and 8 pm the next. There are different expectations today about how people are managed, attitudes to hierarchical structures, automation, digitisation and career expectations. Although the work is highly skilled – training takes over a year – it remains broadly perceived as physical, manual work. “Fewer people are prepared to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty,” according to HR Director Martin Jende.

The reality is that the introduction of more technology means a futuristic train driver’s cabin will look more like an airline pilot’s cockpit. The future of work for train drivers might be less of an actual driver, and more of a process operator. It’s a new way of working, which means some traditional skills and work practices need to be replaced with new ones.

The recruitment challenge to fill the vacancies had to answer several questions.

  •       What does the future job profile of train company employees look like?
  •       How do they want to learn to develop within the company, what are their expectations?
  •       How should the workplace be designed for them to perform their tasks efficiently?

The process had to align present and future workers’ pain points, expectations and motivations for long-term commitment with DB’s company values. Working with the transformation advisers …and dos Santos GmbH, a team of cultural thought leaders and international expert innovators completed a series of Workbench Labs. During these intensive 9-week programmes, this highly personalised collective worked alongside a core team of frontline train drivers and managers from Deutsche Bahn to develop new strategies, innovative solutions, and detailed concepts for the company.

Place of work

A cutting edge design was developed of a driver’s cabin in 2031, which has been recognised as a potential foundation for high speed trains right across Europe.

  • secure access and ability to work through using technological features from biometric authorisation to mobile manipulation of controls;
  • physical comfort and mental clarity maintained during long shifts, supported by human-centric design in every single aspect of the train cabin such as lighting, seating and ventilation;
  •  real-time tools for communication with fellow train drivers and control centres using IOT-supported connectivity to navigate smoothly, deal with environmental or technical disruptions effectively, and maintain punctuality and accuracy along the journey;
  •  improved efficiency and time management using AI through, for example, remote control of trains via digital twins. 

future of work in transport for train drivers

Time with colleagues

The successful principles of the train driver’s cabin of 2031 were adapted to the service centres where drivers rest, train and interact with colleagues in between long-distance shifts. They will be a meeting space for all employees where they can exchange ideas and relax, whilst maintaining positivity.

Management practices

DB Fernverkehr uses a work scheduling app, which is called “Meine Zeit” – meaning “My Time.” Before shifts are allocated and notifications are sent to the drivers, all participating train drivers can express their personal preferences. Preferences can be given for working early in the morning, working late, working at night, driving short shifts with a lot of different types of trains, or doing long shifts on one train.

The app is also able to record hours worked, and at what rates of pay for overtime, weekend work, and so on. This provides an accurate figure for the variable pay that train drivers can expect to earn from one month to the next, and introduces greater transparency to the remuneration process.

On top of this, DB Fernverkehr provides an app for employees to exchange shifts between themselves. This responsibility to operate to a greater extent as self-managing teams avoids much of what previously had potential to be adversarial discussions between employees and management, with each possibly pursuing different agendas.

BOLD Awards 2023 gala dinner ceremony in Venice

future of work in transport

The combined team of Deutsche Bahn Fernverkehr and …and dos Santos GmbH were clearly very pleased to receive their BOLD Award at the gala dinner ceremony in March 2023. The full Deutsche Bahn BOLD Awards submission looking at the future of work in transport for train drivers and other employees is available at  https://bold-awards.com/project/deutsche-bahn-employer-of-the-future/

The entry process for the fifth edition of BOLD Awards will be announced in May 2023, and culminate in an award ceremony at H-FARM in Venice, Italy, in March 2024.

Clive Reffell

Clive Reffell

Clive has worked with Crowdsourcing Week to source, create and publish content since May 2016. With knowledge and experience gained in a 30+ year marketing career based in London, UK, he helps SMEs and startups to run successful crowdfunding projects, and provides support across wider marketing issues.

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