Digitalization and VET in Germany: Challenges and Approaches

Digitalization is changing our everyday work lives and occupations. It has introduced new processes and shifting requirements to the world of work such as Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, drones and computer-aided tools. 

Although these developments are creating new risks and challenges, they are also bringing new opportunities for the world of work and – of course – for Vocational Education and Training (VET). The German Federal Institute of Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) with its partners, stands at the forefront of research on digitalization and its implications for VET in Germany.

How digitalization is disrupting VET

The digital transformation is an unfolding development across the globe, expanding into all spheres of life, including the world of work. The COVID-19 pandemic might have even reinforced this trend and thus increased the challenges/pressure. Consequently, there will also be far-reaching effects on VET, as work tasks and occupational profiles are changing at a rather rapid pace.

For quality VET systems it is vital to ensure qualifications are up-to-date and keep up with the technological progress. Basic research needs to be undertaken in order to identify future needs and the results should be part of policy consultancy for the sake of quality VET.  

As part of its mandate by the German government, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) serves as the central research and development hub for VET and advises the government on VET policy. As new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) constantly emerge, the BIBB has – among other things -focused on questions regarding their significance for occupations in general and what this implies for companies, human resource development, as well as trainers and trainees: How and to what extent are occupations changing? What skills do employees need in their occupations in the future? Some of the major research findings on these questions have been addressed in the latest annual VET data report (2019) which are briefly summarised in the following.

The VET Data Report reports systematically on the current situation and the newest developments in vocational education and training. It is based on empirical data and social research analyses and forms the basis for the Report on Vocational Education and Training published by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The English version of the Data Report is a summary of the German report and provides a selection of the main findings.

The individual chapters present central indicators relating to initial and continuing vocational education and training in the dual system and illustrate developments that have taken place over time. Different main thematic focuses are addressed every year. The Data Report also covers vocational training funding programmes and international indicators and benchmarks. An English version containing a selection of the main findings from the Data Report is available from issue 2010 to issue 2016/2017.

What are the key VET trends to be observed in the future? Projections until 2035

There are currently 326 government recognised vocational training occupations in Germany. The labour market projections for Germany until 2035 show three key trends for these occupations and VET in general:

1. Digitalization is going to reinforce structural changes of the labour market

Digitalization is structurally changing the labour market, reinforcing existing trends. Although there is no substantial loss of jobs to be expected in Germany – as 4 million jobs will be lost due to digitalization while 3.3 million new jobs will be created through the same.  This will result in a substantial shift in the kind of jobs which gain or lose importance: While many jobs in professions like sales occupations are going to decrease in numbers, jobs in other occupations such as the healthcare sector will increase substantially, leading to a need for a shift in training capacities within the respective fields. However, this does not imply that the employees in sales occupations will be left with no opportunities, there is going to be a dynamic shift: Shop assistants may become e-commerce merchants, account managers or turn into fintech-sales people.
In future, the German as well as the European labour market will have particular need for more highly qualified skilled professional specialists and not so much less qualified or only narrowly trained staff on jobs with returning routines.

2. The job-fit-problem is continually rising

The projections also show that the continual rise of the so-called job-fit-problem – the actual demand of industry in terms of occupations differing from the interests of young people– is rising steadily. This will, for example, affect the IT sector as the demand for skilled workers in IT-related jobs is growing constantly but is currently not met. In some other occupations, more people are trained than actually needed by industry. Moreover, as Germany is an ageing society, the overall number of young people taking up VET is declining constantly. This implies that an increasing demand for skilled workers, especially at the medium skills level, contrasts with a decreasing number of trainees. An additional aspect to this challenge are the regional variations in demand for workforce and availability of young people. Especially in the economically strong regions of Germany with many companies, the job-fit-problem rises, as there are too few young people taking up a vocational training. At the same time, some regions have an “oversupply” of young people and a lower number of companies providing VET.

3. The trend towards academization continues

As more and more young people opt for higher education pathways, the trend towards academization continues. Since 2000, the number of university graduates has been rising steadily, from 200,000 in 2000 to 490,000 in 2016. However, by 2035, around half of all people in the labour force have undergone VET training, which is important to the German industry, that needs a sizeable number of skilled workers.

These trends significantly underline the necessity to prepare the working population for the new challenges through initial and continued / advanced training. But what are the skills/competences needed in the world of work today and tomorrow?

Preparing for tomorrow: the ability to learn

Across all occupations in Germany the ability for lifelong learning is a core competency requirement within industry. This encompasses the ability to independently increase one’s own expertise in a given occupational field as well as the ability to apply one’s knowledge in new working contexts. Additionally, occupational skills and knowledge, an understanding of processes and systems, digital competencies, creativity, flexibility and spontaneity are believed to be essential.

Modern VET should thus be able to prepare students for the world of work of today as well as tomorrow. Especially competences like methodological competence, social competence and self-competence are becoming increasingly important in all fields, where technical know-how as well as work and occupational patterns and structures are constantly changing.

Self-competence is an important component of healthy development during adolescence: it involves the interrelationship between self-perception of personal worth and efficacy.

Also, creativity, critical thinking, ability to work in a team, willingness and ability to communicate are key competencies of the future. Learning at the workplace guided by competent trainers is the best acquire these skills.

To what extent are German companies making use of digital technologies and how?

digitalization of vocational training in germanyAs in all economies, there is a digital divide as digitally operating companies exist next to companies, where digitalisation is only slowly realised – if at all, which also often depends on the existing infrastructure in companies and regions – for example, the compatibility of different data formats in development, production and administration of a company or even a broadband internet connection.

A BIBB panel-survey frequently measures the changes within companies and in-company training induced by digitalization. The results for 2019 show that 70 per cent of the companies use digital technologies for linking up with clients, but less than 50 per cent use digital technologies for linking up with suppliers or for the organisation of human resources and work, so there is much room for improvement. As it may be expected, the larger the company, the higher the investments in digital technologies. However, only 9  per cent of the companies in the construction and crafts sector do not undertake investments in digitalization. It has to be weighted to what extent the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the situation, as more and more companies are forced to make stronger use of digital tools.

Latest development in digitalising vocational training

The German VET system is challenged by the described trends induced by or reinforced through digitalization and these challenges are similar across the globe – including India. The main challenge facing the world of work today and in the future are the constantly changing job roles and occupations and the changing skill demand by industry.

A Europe-wide survey (Cedefop, ESJS – 2015) finds over 40 per cent of the employee respondents to have experienced changes in the machines and/or IT-systems used at their workplace in the last five years, and nearly 50 per cent reported changes of workflows and work methods in the same period, which implies the necessity for continued training and or retraining measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly reinforced this trend, although many companies and employees had to get adjusted to the situation. Similarly, the VET system has been challenged by the closing down of VET schools and needed switch to digital content, the postponement of (final) exams and the potential decrease in participation in dual VET by companies.

Germany's flexible, dynamic vocational training system offers a wide range of creative design possibilities and opportunities to manage the impending processes of change, albeit it is still in nascent stage. Examples are – among other things – the development of new occupational profiles based on the demand of industry, such as, "Management Assistant for E-Commerce" or the modernisation of training regulations / standards through the inclusion of digital skills as optional modules. This also encompasses the (further) qualification of teaching and training personnel to uphold the quality of VET and the supply of the necessary digital infrastructure in vocational schools and training centres.

Furthermore, innovative digital methods and tools are now increasingly used in the context of initial and continued vocational training. These include for example computer-based tests to measure the competencies of trainees and trainee candidates, app-based learning modules or digital learning concepts with virtual and augmented reality technologies.

What needs to be highlighted is the decisive role played by companies providing training, the close cooperation between the government (including federal states) and the social partners (employee and employer associations) as well as the solid data-driven VET research informing policy, which is the hallmark of the German VET model. All these factors play a major role in preparing skilled workers for the working world of tomorrow.


On the GOVET website you can find examples of translated training regulations and framework curricula in English.
GOVET

To view the report, visit:
Data Report on BIBB website


 


Source: National Skills Network – NSN, nationalskillsnetwork.in, 18 August 2020