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Frank Aletter, Managing Director Of The German-Serbian Chamber Of Commerce (AHK Serbia)

Growing Opportunities For Collaboration

Serbian companies are very well positioned to attract the interest of German investors seeking to diversify their supply chains or find alternative sourcing destinations. This trend mirrors an upsurge in bilateral business relations

The Delegation of the German Economy in Serbia and the German-Serbian Economic Association celebrated their 20th anniversary in Serbia this year, while the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK Serbia), which unites them, celebrated its fifth anniversary this April.

“There have always been good business relations between Germany and the Western Balkan countries,” says our interlocutor Frank Aletter, Managing Director of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce (AHK Serbia).

These business relations have increased over recent years, not only in terms of trade, but also with regard to German FDI. This trend started around 2012 and, according AHK data, the COVID situation has only marginally slowed the interest of German investors.

“Due to the disruption of the supply chain from Asia, interest of German investors who want to diversify their supply chains has been picking up again. At the same time, companies based in Germany are also seeking alternative sourcing destinations and Serbian companies are very well positioned in this regard,” says Aletter.

“These developments are also reflected in the number of members of the German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce, which started with 30 member companies and now stands at 370 corporations.”

How do you see the chamber’s future operations and activities? What has changed, or has yet to change, when it comes to the way AHK Serbia delivers its services?

The German-Serbian Chamber of Commerce regularly provides information and networking events for its members. At the same time, it also addresses current economic topics and provides a public-private dialogue. The challenges of doing business have, however, increased over the previous years when it comes to climate and environmental protection, digitalisation and finding the right talents for companies. These topics need to be addressed with strategic partners and stakeholders. The chamber has established working groups in these areas to provide knowledge support for its members.

The AHK Road Show has been held in cities that are considered as being Serbia’s new centres of innovation, such as Novi Sad and Čačak, for example. How attractive are these centres to German companies that have a higher technical level of operations?

During the roadshow to Novi Sad and Čačak, it was particularly interesting to meet Serbian companies in the IT sector or in the field of digitalisation and robotics. These are certainly areas that are very interesting for the German market. In addition to that, there is high demand for skilled and experienced personnel in the field of digitalisation. Thus, companies in these two cities are very attractive for potential partnerships with German companies. The AHK Road Show has proven to be a good marketing tool to promote these two locations.

AHK enables a strong network among its members and stakeholders for sharing experiences, monitoring the implementation of the dual education law and bylaws in Serbia, as well as building synergies for cooperation with various partners

AHK Serbia has an important role to play in supporting dual education in Serbia. To what extent are your members involved in dual education today; and how has the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted this area of their work?

Currently, one of the main pillars of AHK Serbia is the support and implementation of dual education as vocational training and dual studies in Serbia, especially when it comes to guidance and practical training provided by our members.

Our chamber built a “Dual education” working group – to support members through the implementation and conducting of dual education in their companies. AHK enables a strong network amongst members and stakeholders for sharing experience, monitoring the implementation of the dual education law and bylaws in Serbia, building synergies for cooperation with VET schools, using linkages to Serbian VETs, universities, training and science centres, as well as to German dual education institutions and providers like the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIPP), the international AHK network, the German IHK network and to German VET schools as well.

We also gather feedback from our members regarding the implementation phase of dual education and its success and challenges, and then forward the main issues of that feedback to leading bodies like the Serbian Ministry of Education, the local chamber of commerce in Serbia, other stakeholders and key players in the country.

Frank Aletter AHK Serbia

After being introduced to secondary schools, dual education is now gaining a more prominent role in tertiary education in Serbia. How important is tertiary dual education for German companies, both at home and abroad?

Our members are in the process of restructuring and updating their industrial processes in line with new technologies, furthering digitalisation through the use of, for example, AI, 3D printing, or augmented reality, and thus complex digitalised technologies demand specialised knowledge and skills based on further education and qualification, and the higher education of their employees.

As it is essential to educate young people at an academic level that can provide solutions to complex and abstract questions, the helpfulness of also hiring young people who have already been exposed to practical tasks can’t be overlooked. In Germany, the concept of dual education also transferred to tertiary dual education. This has been proven as a working tool to provide the right personnel for the relevant job profiles. The future will show whether this is a concept that will work in Serbia. AHK Serbia offers a wide network and the support of an expert in the development of dual study programmes, thanks also to the international network of the GIZ programme “Business Scout for Development”.

You’ve noted the fact that fostering cooperation in science and research, and in business areas, would benefit both countries. Could you be more specific with regard to areas and fields of cooperation?

Various German companies are not only investing in the area of production in Serbia, but also in the field of R&D. This has been seen in particular in the areas of the automotive sector, energy solutions and artificial intelligence. There are flagship projects on the way, in which those companies cooperate with universities. Such initiatives are welcome, but can certainly be increased in the aforementioned sectors or other areas of activities.

Some foreign and bilateral chambers of commerce in Serbia are involved in supporting Serbian start-ups or pairing start-ups and traditional companies from their own countries with innovative companies from Serbia. Have you considered such an option?

This has already been practised for the last several years. AHK Serbia is a bilateral organisation that also supports Serbian companies in matching with German companies in Serbia, as well as providing support to enter the German market. If a start-up company approaches us, we provide all relevant services and open access to our network. As mentioned above, demand is very high, particularly in the IT sector, and creates opportunities.

INTERESTS

Climate and environmental protection, digitalisation and finding the right talents for companies are emerging topics that need to be addressed with strategic partners and stakeholders

INVESTMENTS

Various German companies are investing in the R&D field, particularly in the areas of the automotive sector, energy solutions and artificial intelligence

POTENTIALS

Companies in Novi Sad and Čačak that hail from the IT sector or operate in the field of digitalisation and robotics are very attractive for potential partnerships with German companies