The world was still a different place when the German Federal Government and the most important German industrial associations jointly agreed the National Pact for Training and Skilled Manpower Development in June 2004. There were no cell phones, it was still too soon to talk about complete digital networking of value-added chains, far fewer data were available and there were hardly any unfilled training places.
The challenges in 2019 have not diminished. Whereas the objective around 15 years ago was to ensure that as many young people as possible entered vocational education and training, i.e. offer them career prospects and enable them to participate in society, we are faced with an equally large task in 2019: Many people regard the possibility of automating work areas coupled with digitalization as a potential threat to their career prospects.
As a result of ongoing demographic change and the lengthy procrastination over a modern Immigration Act, we also increasingly have a lack in Europe of qualified specialists who can personally make use of this development. A nascent crisis of confidence is therefore coinciding with a worsening qualification crisis, as aptly stated by Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, at World Economic Form in Davos.
Crisis of confidence and a qualification crisis
And just like in 2004, we should not point the finger at one another. „We“ here means political decision-makers and responsible leaders in companies and industrial associations. There is a need for joint efforts to ensure that the crisis of confidence does not become an institutional crisis and that the qualification crisis does not become a labor market crisis.
With this common objective, politicians and industry leaders must take their joint responsibility more seriously and recognize each other as equal partners.
Because this partnership has not just suffered since the results of the Training Pact in 2004. Industry often lacks an understanding of political processes and does not realize that political decisions do not follow the laws of the market very often.
Conversely, it is becoming increasingly obvious that some political decisions blatantly show a lack of understanding of the roots of our economic and social prosperity: Prosperity is created through growth and growth through company profit. In this case it is necessary to create the right general conditions, for example for investments, taxes or in training and advanced training.
As an entrepreneur, we do not invest in training and advanced training out of a sense of altruism. The labor market for specialists, e.g. in the areas of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and other new technologies, is almost totally empty.
Training as the centerpiece of a new partnership
We have therefore been training our own young people for decades. However, in order to remain competitive in the long term, another great challenge is reskilling of our current workforce. We are doing this based on state-of-the-art learning platforms which ensure continuous advanced training which is geared towards rapidly changing market conditions.
However, if only around one third of surveyed CEOs currently believe that their workforce possesses the right skills for technological change, this is the last warning shot to formulate new concepts for reskilling of broad employee classes together with social partners.
We are not just focusing here on qualifications – e.g. coding – in the narrower sense, we are also changing the entire working life by arousing and increasing curiosity and a desire for change through continuous learning methods. Nowadays, the best way to achieve this is in areas where multidisciplinary teams cooperate in tasks and where every team member possesses and uses specific skills, but is also prepared to evolve in the project and undergo advanced training.
Learning is increasingly taking part in a process, i.e. within the company. Unfortunately, the Grand Coalition's Act on Qualification Opportunities is following an entirely different path because financial incentives were created for advanced training as long as possible by external service providers.
Advanced training in the company still has a considerable advantage in our case: It can remove female employees' fear of losing their job due to artificial intelligence (AI) since IBM uses AI both in its internal processes and in services and products for customers.
We regard artificial intelligence as a tool for employees to increase their skills, for example when looking for internal training courses and job vacancies or in skill matching. In order to comprehensively support this process, we are cooperating with the ver.di trade union in a scientific study to record the impacts of AI on our future work.
The objective of the application study is to examine the effect of AI on jobs, e.g. by using field experiments, and record differences here in the use and the consequences of the use of AI between occupations, activities and qualification levels.
Cultural change requires perseverance
This is a real change in culture: Working in small agile teams, on-the-job training, learning and using new methods and techniques such as design thinking. In order words, continuous learning throughout working life?
This may make some people dizzy. Change means that people must leave their comfort zone and overcome their inner fears. However, social partners and politicians should also share responsibility here. Within the framework of collective agreements we are strengthening flexible working hours models and time sovereignty, are facilitating mobile working and are improving the work-life balance.
IBM is not only enabling young up-and-coming talents to study part-time for a Master's degree, but also selected professionals looking for a change. We are investing in 'mid-career development‘ and are enabling mothers to individually restart their career through internal programs.
However, the focal point is advanced individual training of every IBM employee. Here at IBM Germany we therefore invested an average of 6.5 training days in personal development for each employee last year. This is well above the average of companies which, according to the latest BITKOM study, is 2.3 advanced training days.
They include new scrum masters who previously worked in marketing or agile experts who formerly worked in sales. This showed us that it is becoming increasingly more important to focus on the promotion of motivation and curiosity among individuals rather on the individual formal educational background. This must also be recognized by politicians.
Seven suggestions for eliminating barriers and grasping opportunities
The European Union provided important impetus with the "New Skills Agenda for Europe“ in 2016. IBM is not only supporting the 10-point program, it is also taking part itself in initiatives such as the "Pact for Youth“, the "EU Vocational Skills Week" or the "Bratislava Declaration on e-skills“.
However, one thing is also clear: Education is a matter for EU member states. In Ireland we have therefore developed training courses based on the German vocational school together with strong partners and the government: P-TECH acts at the interface between training and academic studies, and allows students to gain practical experience in companies. The focal points are digital skills and new cooperation methods.
We must therefore also jointly dismantle barriers in Germany and seize the opportunities which digitalization affords us:
Firstly, advanced training in companies must be strengthened and placed on an equal footing with advanced training outside companies. The Act on Qualification Opportunities must therefore be changed to do justice to its name.
Secondly, we must develop within the framework of the National Advanced Training Strategy a modern advanced training regime which promotes digital services in order to improve employees' digital and AI skills. Modern advanced training must be used in this case. Concepts such as "blended learning“ combine online and classroom formats, the acquisition of empirical knowledge, traditional learning units and independent learning by means of digital educational programs. The idea to develop corresponding digital advanced training platforms represents a step in the right direction. Advanced (vocational) training courses at universities must be strengthened and designed in a modular way with eligibility for funding.
Thirdly, freedom of movement for workers must be increased substantially in Europe and elsewhere. Companies live from the exchange and creativity of their female employees, irrespective of whether they are now in Berlin, Warsaw or Bangalore.
Fourthly, we should jointly adapt existing dual and university training courses to the requirements of the digital revolution. IBM is helping to design courses at different universities in this respect.
Fifthly, to put it in provocative terms: The Girls Day must become unnecessary. Instead, we must change our learning culture for everyone. Not every school student must be able to code or carry out programming. It is much more important to make them curious, arouse their spirit of discovery, encourage them to explore things and challenge prevailing circumstances.
Sixthly: Yes, we need more digital media in schools, but they are not enough: Good German lessons can benefit from the use of media, but a poor maths lesson does not become better if I use a tablet. Digital media are a communication aid, they should not become the mainstay of teaching. On the contrary, the nature of learning must also be considered so that school students learn more self-reliantly and are therefore prepared for the future working world. This also applies to university training.
- Seventhly: Lifelong learning must be regarded as an opportunity. Just like everyone of us eagerly looks forward to a new book, an exciting series or an entertaining film, we should also look forward to new occupational phases.
Whetting this appetite is a joint social task for companies, social partners and politicians.
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