Industry 4.0 and the future training

“Jobs will get better”

How will Industry 4.0 change vocational training? Dr Jörg Friedrich, head of the education department at the German Engineering Federation (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau – VDMA), sees a trend towards closer integration between jobs.

2015-10-23

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First of all, the great philosophical question: Does advancing digitisation mean that machines will eventually replace people?

Interestingly, we had the same discussion 20 years ago when the PC was introduced, and today we virtually have full employment. Digitisation is bound to change the world of work; in some companies certain jobs will disappear. But new data analysis will also give rise to completely new fields of work. In the first instance, Industry 4.0 is the opportunity for safeguarding our competitiveness and generating growth.


The workplace of the future is changing …

Yes, but I am absolutely convinced that jobs will get better in the future. Many will be less monotonous, and also less harmful to health, because robots will relieve us of even more physical work. For this to happen, we don’t need more barriers between us today, we need to get in direct contact with each other. Let’s take an example where the KION Group is making a direct contribution, namely that in the future vehicles such as hand pallet trucks will be controlled remotely and warehouse employees will not have to perform such heavy work. The work will also be different, because individuals will take on more responsibility. How fulfilling they find their job is very important to many people. I really think that jobs will become more attractive.


In that case, do we also need to change degree courses?

That has been the key question for a long time. Today we already have about 380 officially recognised occupations in Germany and countless degree courses. Yes, additional courses will probably be created, simply because they also allow universities to raise their profile. But that is not at all the crucial point. It is much more important to determine which skills will be required for work in the future, and how we can teach them.


Do you mean IT and computer skills?

That’s one example. In any case, IT will become more prevalent in mechanical engineering. And, in turn, IT training could become more specialised, because people who want to write software for very specific industries need specialist expertise. Conversely, engineers must be able to talk to the programmers in such a way that they understand each other. You don’t need to be able to develop software yourself, but you must be able to communicate.


Dr Jörg Friedrich

Jörg Friedrich has been in charge of the Education department at the German Engineering Federation (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau – VDMA) in Frankfurt am Main since it was created in March 2013, focusing mainly on issues relating to higher education policy, vocational and academic education, and the recruitment of young people into engineering. After gaining a degree in forestry, Friedrich worked for ten years at Hessen's Federation of Trade Associations, where he headed the
SCHOOLECONOMY working group.


But you don’t necessarily need a new degree course for that.

No, it primarily means that we need to think about how to link these two worlds more closely in vocational training. By the way, many degree courses have been constantly evolving for decades. Milling machine operators are now mechatronics fitters. We wouldn’t be global market leaders if we hadn’t got that right. And we already have a strong practical element in our engineering courses. The great challenge in connection with Industry 4.0 will be how to ensure that everyone has an overview of the complete process, from development to shipment. Then, new hybrid job profiles located in the interfaces really will emerge, with production technologists, for example, coordinating development and production, or taking the role of process experts and helping to plan the technical processing tasks from concept development to production.


How much will teaching have to change because of this?

Well, dual vocational training is already a way of providing feedback to the technical colleges. I also believe this is our global USP – this incredibly strong crossover between theory and practice. It is productive for both sides. What is true though, is that the technical colleges will have to cope with everything moving much faster in the future. And companies are also asking themselves the same question: How do I provide my employees with continuing professional development? We are not just talking about new recruits, but also about the others, the large proportion of long-standing employees. They also need on-going training.


Will everyone have to acquire more knowledge in the future?

Just swotting up on knowledge is really outdated, we know that it’s not sustainable, and anyway the amount of information has increased so much that it is absolutely impossible for us to learn everything. Consequently, training must provide the tools for self-learning. Going forward, we will need even more people who are capable of finding information and solving problems. Technical change not only affects production, it also affects the way we live. The ever-growing pace of technological change is invading every aspect of our lives.


Does that mean everybody needs to be an IT expert?

Nowadays, young people in particular already have certain skills. Nevertheless, there will be those who would rather build machines than write software. I don’t think that’s a problem. The main thing is that both sides can talk to each other. In the past, there were very separate areas in production where everyone essentially worked on their own. Today, we are constantly sharing information, so you have to be able to communicate. And everyone always has to keep up with those downstream and upstream of them in the data or process chain. Lots of things are becoming easier to use, because you can press buttons. But keeping track of everything is becoming more complex.