The ongoing digitization in the economy and in workplaces poses challenges for vocational education and training. The new annual report of the Expert Commission on Research and Innovation (EFI) explores what these challenges are. The report was recently presented virtually to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Among other things, it shows how important it is to adapt vocational education and training to the digital transformation.
Digitization requires creativity
“We will not run out of work in the foreseeable future. But in the transformation process, many established jobs are falling away, while new ones are being created in other parts of the economy,” explains Professor Holger Bonin. He is research director at the Research Institute on the Future of Work (IZA) in Bonn. Since the new jobs require completely different skills than the previous ones, there is a great need for further training. At the same time, he says, the trend is toward less routine work. “This increases the demands on people’s professional skills,” says Bonin.
Professor Till Requate from the University of Kiel explains that technological and digital skills are therefore increasingly needed, on the one hand for the design of transformative technologies. But there is also an increasing need for so-called classic core skills: “Problem-solving ability, creativity, initiative, adaptability and stamina,” says Requate.
Unleashing the potential of new technologies
According to the expert commission, the development of these core skills is crucial to securing individual employment and career opportunities in the digitized world of work, Requate clarifies. “Only if these core skills are sufficiently available in the workforce can the economic and social potential of new technologies fully unfold and digitization rapidly penetrate all parts of the economy.” After all, this would also serve Germany’s innovation and competitiveness. That is why it is so important to the EFI that the system of vocational education and training in Germany keeps pace with the changes in the economy and the world of work brought about by digitization.
Labor market expert Bonin explains: “To this end, the content and structures of initial and continuing vocational education and training must be further developed and designed in such a way that the core skills for the digitized world of work are taught in a way that meets the needs. Companies and people in the workforce have a key role to play here. However, there is an urgent need for impetus from public authorities to strengthen the willingness to adapt and the framework conditions for this.
Getting fit for digitization
Against this backdrop, the EFI recommends a number of measures: First, the design of training must be adapted to digitization. Second, teachers and trainers as well as vocational schools must be made fit for digitization. Professional adaptability must be strengthened through flexible additional qualifications. Another important point: In promoting continuing vocational training, the EFI proposes developing and testing bridging solutions that make it easier for employees affected by technological change to switch to a new company at an early stage. “After all, the existing support instruments are strongly geared toward continued employment with the current employer, even though it may not offer the best prospects for the future,” Bonin explains. “They also often only kick in when it’s actually already too late for a professional reorientation.”
Monitoring of vocational skills also needs to be expanded, he adds. It also makes sense, he says, to improve the structures that can help with orientation about job-related continuing education. Labor market expert Bonin also emphasizes: “In order to prevent conflicts of interest, it is necessary to strictly separate the advice on individual job-related further training from related support measures in organizational terms. On behalf of the EFI team, he appeals to policymakers and industry: “We must manage to adapt our education and training system quickly and agilely to the requirements of digitization.” The skilled labor base is a key factor in ensuring that the German economy emerges faster and stronger from the digital transformation, he said. The winners would also be the workforce. Because qualifications will mean better work and higher incomes in the future, too.