Members’ Corner – Taking electrotechnical expertise beyond installations: meet our Board Member Karl-Heinz Bertram

After interviewing our President Martin Bailey and our Board Member Emma Elheim Karlsson, today we turn to our Board Member Karl-Heinz Bertram from our German Member Association ZVEH.

It is a pleasure to sit down with you today. Could you start by telling us more about what you do exactly?

Yes, of course! I run a company called Bertram Elektrotechnik GmbH, which I took over from my father in the second generation in 1988. In my time as managing director, we repositioned ourselves from a classic electrical company that carried out electrical installations in buildings. We now specialize in automation technology and machines for industrial applications. Today, our company is divided into four main areas:

  • Electrical and automation engineering
  • machine and plant construction
  • industrial image processing
  • software development

Germany has a strong industrial sector that we serve, but we also work for customers across Europe and beyond to deliver customized solutions for different types of manufacturing processes. We are happy to meet the specific requirements of our customers, whether they come from the automotive industry, the glass industry, or other sectors.

At Bertram Elektrotechnik GmbH we currently employ around 75 people. We are a classic family business, and my three sons work together with me. Each of them is responsible for a specific area: One is responsible for software solutions and industrial image processing; another looks after production and the third manages mechanical design and machine and plant construction. Nowadays, I mainly take care of special tasks and act in an advisory capacity.

Since you are not involved in building installation, is your company affected by the ongoing green and digital changes, and if so, how?

It may be different from traditional electricians, but we are feeling the impact of the double transition just like others.

Take heating, for example, and the transition to low carbon and renewable heating systems with heat pumps. For our company, this has two very different impacts. On the one hand, our facilities have to get rid of their gas boilers in favour of heat pumps to decarbonize our heating system. On the other hand, we are working with a manufacturer of heat pumps in our region who is expanding its operations to meet demand and therefore needs new equipment for installation and quality testing, which we will supply.

And this also applies to mobility. I drive an electric car to meet with customers all over Europe, but our company also manufactures machines for automotive suppliers in the electric car value chain. The shift to e-mobility is indeed an interesting business opportunity for us as well. E-vehicles are very different from conventional vehicles with combustion engines and require many new electromechanical components, which means that e-vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers in turn need many new and sophisticated machines that we can develop and supply.

And what about the shortage of skilled workers and labour. Are you also affected by this?

That is the case in every technical sector, including ours. There are two problems: finding enough workers and having workers with the right skills.

Young people are finding it harder and harder to get excited about manual work. But these jobs have to be done. We have, however, been lucky enough to find good employees with a migration background as well as a number from the Ukraine. 

In the design area for electrical and mechanical engineering, we are relying more and more on dual studies, which we also offer in our company. To this end, we have entered into a partnership with a university that specializes in dual studies. This way, the graduates have practical skills that they receive in our company and theoretical skills that they receive at the university. This training makes it easier for them to get involved in the constructive development of plants and machines.

You have been with EuropeOn for over 20 years, our readers will be very interested in your experience with us!

In 2001 I started my activities for the ZVEH at EuropeOn, which was then called AIE (“Association européenne de l’Installation Electrique”). A short time later I was head of the working group for the WEEE Directive (on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment). We met with the Member of the European Parliament in charge to convey our concerns on the subject to him, as the new requirements for dealing with electrical and electronic waste had an impact on (and depended on) electrical installers.

Then in 2002 I was elected Vice-President of AIE/EuropeOn and from 2004 to 2006 I was President.  That was an exciting time for me. I like to think of the discussions, which were sometimes very lengthy, as many different interests had to be taken into account. But I think it is great that our sector can be heard in the political decisions of the EU. We can share our practical experiences with those that are drafted by politicians and will later affect us. It also allows us to react to European legislation and prepare for what is to come at national level.

EuropeOn is also a great association to meet like-minded people from Europe. It allowed me to work with colleagues from member associations. We can learn from each other, but also support each other in projects across borders. I have had several positive and mutually successful experiences.

I have many good memories of EuropeOn! The federation is on the right track, and I wish it a successful future.