Coping confidently with the technical transformation

Study investigates training and employment in office-based occupations

In terms of technology, office-based occupations are always ahead of the curve – here computer hardware and software are frequently deployed before other areas in the world of work. At the same time, they also involve a higher proportion of so-called routine tasks, i.e. required actions which constantly reoccur. Are office occupations therefore particularly threatened by the technical transformation? A recent Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) study with the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) shows that this is not the case. The study investigated in-depth the changes in office occupations since the 1980s and concluded that training in these occupations is well prepared for the technical transformation. Office workers also regard themselves as well equipped for the new requirements resulting from the technical changes.

According to the authors, for the first time the study places emphasis on the subjective capabilities, experiences and knowledge of office employees – their capacity for work – and potential for shaping the technical transformation. Technical developments are influenced in particular by the way employees, companies and the education system actively work with them.

Overall, according to the study, the complexity and requirements involved in the task profiles of office-based occupations has increased in the period between 2006 and 2018. At the same time there was a reduction in routine tasks. The degree of autonomy in office-based occupations, i.e. the freedom employees have to make decisions and act, is relatively high. The employees and those trained in these occupations deal constructively with change, complexity and uncertainty in their workplace and use these experiences effectively as a creative competence enabling them to deal with technical innovations in the work process. The study also illustrates the vocational flexibility of people trained in the office-based sector and the occupational groups in which they frequently find employment.

Between 1996 and 2017, the proportion of office employees compared to all persons in employment was around six million (approximately 13 per cent) - with a slightly increasing trend most recently. The corresponding training occupations also have a key role to play in training. In 2017, for example, almost 59,000 new training contracts were concluded in this area, equivalent to well above 10 per cent of all newly concluded training contracts for that year. The constant introduction of new technical work equipment in the office, for example personal computers, emails and laptops, has always meant that employees and companies need to be able and willing to deal with these changes. This need to be able to adapt has been, and is being, taken account of within training by restructuring occupations and introducing new training occupations.

The study paints a comprehensive picture of change in office occupations over the last 40 years and forms part of projects investigating the connections between technical and social change. The projects are financially supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

 Source: (press release by the German Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training), revised by iMOVE, June 2021