High-tech centre for the skilled trades: tomorrow's training today

The very latest CNC machines, VR technology and welding robots – the new vocational training and technology centre of the Chamber of Crafts and Trades for Swabia shows what training and continuing education in the skilled trades needs to look like in the future to remain competitive.

A standard football pitch measures 105 metres by 68 metres, equivalent to an area of 7,140 square metres. This is similar to the area occupied by the new "Berufsbildungs- und Technologiezentrum" (vocational training and technology centre, BTZ) of the Chamber of Crafts and Trades for Swabia. The comparison also gives an idea of the dimensions of the building complex in Augsburg with its pleasantly timeless and unobtrusive design. Its ultra-modern equipment makes it a flagship for vocational education and training, not just for Swabia but for Germany as a whole as a place to train. Just short of €50 million has been spent on construction of the vocational training and technology centre and the goal is for it to provide an outstanding training environment for around 10,000 trainees and students on master craftsperson courses each year.

The centre took around six years to build and blends in seamlessly with the design of the skilled trades academy and the service centre. The conditions under which this construction took place proved challenging. To be able to continue with classes for trainees, construction work had to be completed while existing institutions continued to operate as normal – a mammoth undertaking in terms of organisation and logistics.

Biggest investment in the skilled trades in Swabia

The official opening should in fact have taken place in 2020 following completion of all the hard work involved. However, due to the pandemic, the celebration involving numerous guests from the worlds of politics and business has not been possible until now. The Chamber's president was visibly proud and relieved that everything had worked out in the end. "For the skilled trades in Swabia, this is the biggest investment ever and we are just as proud as we are delighted at being able to provide the next generation of workers in the skilled trades with ultra-modern and future-oriented training opportunities ," explained Hans-Peter Rauch, President of the Chamber of Crafts and Trades (HWK) for Swabia in his speech.

All the effort appears to have been worth it. The discrete aluminium building shell now houses eight workshops and training rooms for a total of eight specialist areas in the skilled trades, all of which are equipped with state-of-the-art technology. During a tour, the Chamber of Crafts and Trades provided a detailed introduction to the various facilities.

The ground floor itself is home to the very impressive training workshops for future agricultural and construction machinery mechatronics engineers. In the huge hall there are a number of excavators, tractors and trucks, together with attachments, all standing several metres in height. The slightly less imposing smaller items of work equipment such as chainsaws are, however, also important for ensuring apprentices receive the correct training. Only by working directly with the machines and vehicles under the guidance of an instructor can trainees understand what is important when working with engine and drive technologies, hydraulics, and electronics and how the individual components of the machines and equipment are serviced and repaired.

Learning welding techniques virtually

Not far away on the same floor of the building are the facilities for aspiring welders. For them, in the new centre there are three welding workshops with 36 workstations in all. With an ultra-modern welding robot, these workshops also showcase state-of-the-art technology. In a lecture hall, welding can also be tried virtually using virtual reality glasses. These digitally supported exercises make it possible to simulate realistic applications without using up unnecessary material. And they also mean that errors can be made without needing a new workpiece.

The bright and light-filled corridors take you up to the first floor of the centre's workshop facilities. In the three workshops here, young metal workers can access traditional vices and plenty more. In the first year of training they use the vices to learn the basics of metal working such as filing, sawing and grinding. Trainees in the second and third year of training are also able to work with the technically advanced turning, drilling and milling machines.

Welders able to train using the latest technology in the vocational training and technology centre

This floor of the building is also home to the classrooms for photographers. Here, the full range of equipment such as the very latest cameras, lenses, lighting and further accessories are available to trainees and to students following master craftsman/master craftswomen courses. Workstations equipped with modern software mean that the post-editing of photographs is also possible on site.

However, the show piece of the first floor and perhaps even the entire vocational training and technology centre is located one room further on. In the CNC workshop for aspiring precision machinists and milling machine operators, the extent to which, today, the skilled trades and advanced technology really do go hand -n-hand is made abundantly clear. Besides a modern 3D printer there is also a simultaneous 5-axis machine tool. The cost of this item of technology was around half a million euros. Using this piece of equipment, the tradespeople are able to learn high-precision metalworking and filigree techniques using very hard materials.

And suddenly the car is in the workshop

This highlight is not the end of the tour for the new vocational training and technology centre. A couple of flights of stairs takes you up to the second floor which is home to the workshops and teaching rooms for electrical engineers, gilders as well as painters and varnishers.

In total there are five workshops available to electrical engineering apprentices. Typical tasks can be worked through on the different training modules, starting with the basics such as how a switch works and how these can be linked together.

For painters and varnishers in the vocational training and technology centre there are three workshops with spraying and drying booths. One particular highlight is the integrated hoist which allows the entire vehicle to be transported into the training rooms. This makes the inter-company training instruction and the master craftsperson courses even more realistic.

At the end of the tour, participants were also able to watch gilders and church painters at work. In contrast to the high-tech machines in the other workshops, here it's the very traditional tools which come into use. On their workpieces, the apprentices demonstrate very impressively how manual work is still very much a part of the skilled trades. This is in fact the only inter-company vocational training centre for this occupation in the country.

The tour through the new vocational training and technology centre makes you want to try out one of the skilled trades for yourself. Here, trainees and aspiring master craftspersons will find the optimal conditions for starting a career in the skilled trades.

Source: deutsche-handwerks-zeitung.de (newspaper of the German skilled trades sector), revised by iMOVE, November 2022