Don Bosco van Hoi
Don Bosco van Hoi

Vocational training in the context of Shopware

Published at Feb 20th 2024
  CEO @ Mothership
   Munich, Germany

What personal challenges do you see for small and medium-sized (SME) companies in Germany, especially in e-commerce?

From my perspective, one of the biggest challenges for small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany, especially those with no experience in e-commerce is the missing integration of e-commerce-processes into their business strategy. Like we all know, it is not just about setting up an online shop.

For many SMEs, IT and e-commerce are often seen in a support role or as a cost center, rather than as an integral part of the company’s strategic vision. This can lead to shops being managed by marketing or other smaller departments without the strategic focus they deserve.

This leads to the main challenge, which lies in the understanding of the digital maturity of the business. You need to understand where your company stands in its digital transformation journey. It is a big challenge because it requires a deep dive into metrics and terms that many SMEs might not be familiar with or fully appreciate the importance of. For example, we recently had a request where a potential client did not even know about ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems or had a wrong understanding about it. In contrast, we are actively engaged in assisting another client with their transition to an ERP system. This migration represents a significant milestone in their business strategy, enabling them to efficiently process a higher volume of orders without the need to increase their number of employees.

So for us as an agency, I would say, the challenge is not just technological, it is about strategy, organization and people. Aligning the business model in a way that it supports digital initiatives and ensuring that employees are on board and capable of driving these changes.

How does the skilled labor shortage affect these companies?

The lack of qualified IT professionals is a critical problem that limits the transformation efforts. Although medium-sized companies train most of the skilled workers in the craft and service sector, the demand in the IT sector, especially in application development and consultancy, is enormous. Companies struggle to fill vacancies, which limits growth and delays innovative projects. Of course, you can not be a driver for change when there are no resources.

Also, professionals are now highly specialized. In the past, when e-commerce was still relatively new, one or two people could potentially set up and manage an e-commerce project. As a former consultant, I played multiple roles in a project – ranging from full-stack developer to project manager, change manager, or sometimes merely handling paperwork.

Nowadays, nearly every part of the technological stack and organizational structures requires dedicated positions: Frontend Developer (React, VueJs, Svelte, etc.), Backend (PHP, Go, etc.), DevOps, Product Owner, Scrum Master, Project Manager, Portfolio Manager, Head of Marketing, Performance Manager, Head of Digital, etc. The continuously evolving professionalism has led to these highly specialized roles, making it very difficult to hire for all these positions, which lead to the situation that we do not have enough people to fulfill all roles.

At our company, Mothership GmbH, we focus on vocational training of IT specialists in application development (in german: Fachinformatiker für Anwendungsentwicklung), aiming to train them with a holistic perspective on e-commerce in general, which is very contrary to the job description! This approach enables them to fulfill multiple roles to mitigate this shortage.

How does vocational training as an IT specialist for application development help to overcome these challenges?

At Mothership, vocational training equips trainees with a comprehensive foundation in technical, economical, and project management skills. Actually, this is part of the official curriculum. This broad skill set is crucial for handling the complex requirements of our Shopware projects, enabling trainees to manage projects from conception to maintenance with an eye on both technical requirements and economic viability.

The curriculum blends classroom learning with hands-on experience, getting trainees ready to use what they've learned right away on real projects. We aim to offer advice without strictly sticking to specific programming languages, methods, or so-called "best practices." But of course, our main programming language is PHP 🐘.

What we recognized is that in German education systems, no emphasis is placed on soft skills while in fact, a significant amount of our problems can be solved with good communication. In the continuously evolving world where everybody uses AI in his working space, we prioritize the importance of communicating complex solutions in an understandable way. My honest opinion is that you do not need skilled coders in the future anymore, but skilled problem solvers, who can code or are able to use their toolbox which can include various programming languages but also soft skills. This is crucial for effective collaboration with team members, stakeholders, and clients.

The Shopware ecosystem is large, and we need to have adaptable, forward-thinking professionals.

Can you explain in more detail how Shopware is integrated into your training concept, and what advantages it offers?

Absolutely. Shopware is a core component of our training. Its versatile deployment options, such as the headless approach, but also its high standardization and widespread use in various industries in the SME sector, make Shopware an ideal platform for imparting deep, practical knowledge in the field of e-commerce.

In the first year of training, we focus on giving the trainees a solid foundation in the configurative aspects of Shopware. They learn how to work with the Rule Builder and Flow Builder, define shipping rules, create products and manage orders. This phase is especially important because it uses Shopware's intuitive user interface to understand the fundamentals of modern shop systems. Payment service providers, fulfillment services, and third-party tools such as consent management and content management systems (CMS) are integrated into the learning content, helping the trainees develop a holistic understanding of e-commerce processes. Of course, programming is also part of the first year, but initially focuses on providing a basic understanding of PHP, where we primarily emphasize object-oriented principles. They also get introduced to Linux as an operating system, protocol layers and basic architecture like client-server-communication.

In the second year, we deepen the technical skills of our trainees. Since Shopware is based on the Symfony framework, we can focus on advanced technical and architectural concepts. The excellent developer experience and documentation of Symfony allow us to cover important topics such as design patterns and modern software development principles, including SOLID principles and clean code. This is also the phase where we place a strong emphasis on quality assurance and train the apprentices in the application of the entire testing pyramid, from unit tests to integration tests to end-to-end tests (E2E). We recognized a wider adoption of modern testing frameworks like Playwright or cypress which are a perfect fit in the Shopware ecosystem and can easily be integrated into our educational philosophy of learning by doing 🙂

The third year of training utilizes the versatility of Shopware to teach trainees a wide range of competencies in the field of software architecture and project management. The headless approach, the storefront, and the ability to use APIs are key concepts that we evaluate together with our customers to understand and apply different architectural solutions. These skills are essential for developing flexible and scalable e-commerce solutions that meet the requirements of modern online shops, and can already be addressed with guidance from experienced developers.

And finally, the training concludes a “final project” that also has relevance to Shopware. Whether it's the development of a larger plugin or the analysis of software architectures, it's crucial that this always aligns with economic aspects, such as time, budget, and scope. After the training, the phase of lifelong learning begins, and of course, we hope that our trainees will remain loyal to the Shopware community for a long time.

What strategies do you recommend for companies that want to provide training?

Companies should invest in training and further education, and create apprenticeship positions to develop skilled workers themselves. A culture of lifelong learning and innovation is essential to remain attractive to skilled workers in the long term. Also, if they have specific questions, we are open to share our experience.