When Philips made the decision to spin out the training courses from its former Centre for Technical Training, it was with the explicit intention that this specialist knowledge remained in the Netherlands. The result is a unique partnership: High Tech Institute. The institute’s founder and director, René Raaijmakers, offers a status update and outlines the institute’s vision and ambitions for technical post-academic education.
In 2011, the renowned technical training courses of the Philips Centre for Technical Training (CTT) moved to High Tech Institute. When spinning out these course activities in 2010, Philips explicitly expressed that they wanted to keep this knowledge within the Dutch high-tech ecosystem. So, what is this legacy and what is on the horizon?
For decades, researchers from the illustrious Philips Natlab (Philips Physics Laboratory, commonly referred to as Philips Research) and the Centre for Manufacturing Technology (CFT) developed training courses for Philips CTT. The customers for these courses were the worldwide R&D departments within Philips’s product divisions. The internal training institute was primarily intended to train people in state-of-the-art technology and soft skills.
What a luxury: top researchers and engineers from the NatLab and CFT – always working on the latest technical possibilities and insights – immediately passed on their knowledge to the product developers. In its peak years, Philips CTT had a portfolio of nearly 100 specialized training courses in IC technology, mechanics, mechatronics, optics, systems, software and innovation. In the boom years of the nineties, roughly four to five thousand students were going through the mill every year.
With numerous activities splitting off in the late nineties, Philips CTT’s customer base shifted more and more toward external parties, subsidiaries and spin-offs. One major impact was the spin-out of NXP (formerly Philips Semiconductors), the chip activity that once had accounted for more than half of all participants in CTT training courses.
In 2004, Philips sold its last remaining ASML shares and, a few years later, Philips Semiconductors would become NXP. With the departures of ASML and NXP, Philips was faced with another difficult decision: what to do with the CTT? As it was not really a core activity for Philips, the obvious answer was that the CTT would need to break apart – which was accelerated by the crisis of 2008.
Through one of the CTT program managers, I learned that the training activities were for sale. For me it was a simple calculation. I owned a publishing house, Techwatch, which reached a great number of highly skilled technical engineers in Belgium and the Netherlands through the publications Bits&Chips and Mechatronica&Machinebouw. I had the idea that we would be able to use these media platforms to deliver high-end technical training courses.
In the autumn of 2008, I approached deputy director Theun Baller, the man who was responsible for Philips CTT at Philips Research (now Dean of Mechanical Engineering at TU Delft). I visited him together with an advisor and potential investor from the world of technical training. After all, my own company Techwatch was tiny – I certainly realized that I could not pay for an activity such as a training institute out of my own pocket.
My business partner and I were convinced that a conclusive business case would be appealing. However, Baller had no interest in the financial side of the case. We argued that we could reach the entire industry via Techwatch media and thus secure a healthy financial future for the CTT portfolio. In our view, the Brainport high-tech community would automatically benefit from a good business model and a solid financial basis.
Baller was not impressed. He wanted to hear something different. How would we maintain the knowledge and quality? How would we ensure that the Eindhoven ecosystem would benefit in particular? Frankly, at that moment, I did not realize what the real challenge was: namely, how to maintain and renew a broad training portfolio. If the Philips experts would be contributing less in the long run, where would the content come from?
When I said my goodbyes, I felt as though I had not made a sufficiently good impression. After a few weeks, I received Baller’s unsurprising response: sorry, but this is where our conversation ends.
More than a year later, Philips came up with its own solution. The CTT activities were placed with four Eindhoven parties that were able to keep the training courses up to date. That was the signal for me to start a conversation with these parties, many of whom I already knew. That led, in 2011, to the establishment of High Tech Institute. This organization went on to take care of marketing and sales in close cooperation with Techwatch. High Tech Institute became the public face of the courses.
Our formula is pretty simple. Four content partners manage the content of the training courses, each partner having its own specialties. They are responsible for the selection of and the relationship with the teachers, the quality and content of the training, and for keeping the material up to date. The marketing and sales organization has agreements with each of these four parties on the basis of mutual exclusivity.
Last year, the Institute and Techwatch became full sisters. Both companies have a common denominator in their missions to make independent information and knowledge available to the entire high-tech industry.
''High Tech Institute plays an essential role in the exchange of practical knowledge in the high-tech industry and contributes to the competitiveness of the Dutch high-tech industry on a global scale.''
As the founder of the Techwatch publication Bits&Chips, I am deeply convinced that an independent professional press contributes to the health of the entire industry, just as an independent press and freedom of expression keep our society and democracy healthy. This can also be seen working in the opposite direction: that the high-tech industry is a mature ecosystem which is evidenced by the fact that it is a breeding ground for magazines such as Bits&Chips and Mechatronica&Machinebouw.
''An independent trade press and high-quality training courses keep the entire high-tech vital.''
High Tech Institute’s mission is in the same line. The high-quality training courses from our content partners are accessible to everyone and keep the entire high-tech industry vital. We draw on the knowledge of universities, research institutes and companies, and provide lessons learned from practical experience to the entire industry. This helps to keep the Netherlands one of the world’s most competitive technological regions.
Transferring knowledge: a way of life
Both High Tech Institute and our content partners care deeply about Baller’s ideal of keeping the high-quality knowledge of the courses up to date. Content partner Mechatronics Academy, for example, recently gave a thorough update to its ‘Design Principles for Precision Engineering’ training course. This course was fully booked from its release – a sign that the right choices were made in the training program.
Our partners can respond quickly to developments because they can call on a hundred or so involved trainers. Their experience and the lessons they have learned over the course of their careers are, in my opinion, our greatest added value. I particularly like the fact that many of our trainers have earned their spurs in the development of products that have changed the world, such as the CD player or the wafer stepper. For most of them, transferring knowledge to future generations is a way of life.
In terms of technology and science, knowledge remains up to date because leading researchers and university lecturers are involved. Many of our training courses are continuously fed by the latest insights from the universities of Delft, Eindhoven and Twente.
''We look sharply at areas where there is a need for knowledge, where we can get the relevant knowledge and how to develop it for our community (Adrian Rankers, Mechatronics Academy).''
Due to the proactive attitude of our content partners, we have been able to launch several new training courses in relevant areas over recent years, such as Thermal Effects in
Mechatronic Systems. The first edition of Passive damping for high-tech systems, held in April 2019, was fully booked. EMC for motion systems has recently been added too. As Adrian Rankers of Mechatronics Academy says, “We look carefully at which areas need more knowledge, where we can acquire the relevant knowledge and how we should develop it for our community”.
Spectrum of companies
When we started in 2011, our client base was mainly ‘big high tech’. Our goal was to reach out to other customers. This has been very successful. In 2011 and 2012, for example, participants for courses on system architecture, electronics and mechatronics training came mainly from ASML, NXP and Philips. In the recent years, however, attendance comes from a whole spectrum of companies, and the frequency in which these trainings are rolled out has doubled.
The highly specialized optics course is one exception. These trainings mainly attract people from ASML. On the one hand, this ensures continuity, but we want to spread this knowledge to a larger target group. That is why our content partner for optics, T2Prof, has improved one of the optics trainings in partnership with the Dutch Optics Centre. The first edition of this training was planned for February of 2019.
You only die once
I had a nice experience with a course myself in summer 2018, doing the Basic Course Tree Climbing at The Treeclimbing Company (TTC). I wanted to be able to climb a tree, because I recently bought a house with a small area of woods. I did not realize that there was so much involved in climbing a tree safely. However, it is telling that they take no less than two days for the beginners’ course at TTC. It turned out to be a source of inspiration, and the similarities with the High Tech Institute training courses were striking.
What can you do after two days of tree-climbing training? Very simple: you can gain access to the tree. That is to say, you learn to attach a climbing rope from the ground to the crown and to safely climb up and down. There is a great deal of emphasis on safety; after all, you only die once. The essential point is that after those two days I could dream the whole procedure with all its safety aspects. “I can get you into the tree easily within an hour,” said TTC trainer Mark Jakobs, “but then you won’t know anything, and you won’t be able to do it yourself at home tomorrow.”
In fact, that is also the essence of the technical and leadership training at the High Tech Institute. Most of our courses consist for more than half of practice and exercise. When participants arrive at work the following day, they are immediately able to apply their new knowledge. With social skills courses such as Leadership skills for architects and other technical leaders, up to 80 per cent of the course is exercises. We realize that practice takes a lot of time. Here we use this as the point of departure: It’s better to provide training in fewer subjects and have them stick 100 per cent, than to cover as much ground as possible – knowing that most knowledge evaporates quickly.
''We practice until people really get the hang of it (Jaco Friedrich, Settels Savenije Friedrich).''
Jaco Friedrich, a trainer in communication and social skills from content partner Settels Savenije & Friedrich, says, “We practice until people really have the hang of it. Experience shows that it is better to really live through a small number of situations than to rush through a lot of situations. You will gain nothing at all with theory-only training.”
Training courses at High Tech Insitute have the similarity to a tree climbing course: they are very practical.
''The competitive edge of High Tech Institutes trainings is the focus on practice.''
The same applies to many of our technical training courses. Take the three-day Advanced Feedforward Control. In this course, students work on a control for a print head. There is a lot of mathematics and software involved, but participants eventually have to put it in a working application themselves. “We want them to apply it fully once and see what it delivers,” says Tom Oomen, who teaches this course and is an associate professor at Eindhoven University of Technology. “They take home the algorithm and the software. With these two ingredients they can get started at work immediately.”
The rise of attention given to online courses a few years ago eclipsed the amount which was given to hands-on training. We believe that online access to knowledge is very useful and we will definitely use this approach in the future. We feel, however, that online is primarily a resource center, mostly useful as good preparation for the actual course – similar to textbooks, audio and video. The effectiveness of a course in which participants learn the substance by actually applying it and where trainers are ready to give immediate feedback is unrivaled by any other method.
''Our courses are made up of more than 50% practical application. Participants can immediately apply the knowledge.''
Yes, this kind of study takes time and also involves an investment. The financial cost of the course is not even the primary issue: in an industry that is dictated by deadlines, multi-day training courses weigh heavily on the available time of employees.
''If someone does a course at High Tech Institute, he gets a five percent higher return in the five years that follow (Jan van Eijk, Mechatronics Academy).''
But that investment is worth it. “If you send someone to a course, you lose a piece of turnover”, says Jan van Eijk, partner at Mechatronics Academy. He says, however, in return for the investment in training you receive someone who needs fewer hours to complete a job. “He or she also delivers a better design. I assert that if someone does a course at High Tech Institute, they will achieve a five per cent higher return in the five years that follow.” Even that, he adds, is still a conservative estimate. “A course takes a week, which is about two per cent of a year, but you will benefit from that ‘investment’ for years to come.”
High Tech Institute has been accepting participants from abroad for years, but the number of in-company training courses is also increasing. Meanwhile, we organize annual courses for companies in Asia, throughout Europe, the Middle East and the USA. Techwatch is also prepared to boost its international marketing by publishing Bits&Chips exclusively in English starting in April 2019. This goes hand in hand with Techwatch’s customers’ desire for more international exposure.
The decision to publish Bits&Chips in English will also help to bring High Tech Institute courses to the attention of a strongly growing population of non-Dutch engineers that have flocked to the Netherlands. It will also support the international strategy of High Tech Institute.
After completing his studies in solid-state chemistry, René Raaijmakers began working as a technology journalist in 1989. That role soon provided him with a link to the Philips NatLab and in the nineties he covered the research at this Philips lab for the scientific supplement in the NRC Handelsblad. In 1999, he started Bits&Chips and eight years later, Mechatronica&Machinebouw. He has also written books on the NatLab and ASML. Since 2011, in addition to his publishing firm Techwatch, he has also been managing High Tech Institute.