National Skill Strategy: For a New Culture of Continuing Education and Training in Times of Digital Transformation
Text: Task Force National Skills Strategy, Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
The Federal Republic of Germany’s first-ever National Skills Strategy was presented in a strategy paper on 12 June 2019. The strategy contains strong new ideas and concrete measures for designing policies in the fields of continuing education and training and the labour market for continuing vocational training, lifelong learning and skills development.
Digital and demographic structural change is drastically changing our world of work. The proportion of employees subject to social insurance contributions who are working in occupations with high potential for being replaced is increasing. Automation may affect one in four employees in Germany in the coming years and they will have to re-orient themselves professionally.1 Profound changes can be expected even for employees in occupations that will continue to exist. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expects that more than 35 per cent of all occupations will undergo fundamental transformations by 2030.2 Increasingly complex job profiles also require the acquisition of new skills: social-communicative skills, systemic thinking, a capacity for abstract thinking and the ability to process information and select data quickly will become more important. Creativity, interdisciplinary thinking and the ability to change are in demand.
Digital technology is changing our lives and how we work. It opens up a wide range of opportunities to influence the world of work, but at the same time also brings risks. That is why we must ensure that today’s workers can do tomorrow’s work – not least to counteract the shortages of skilled workers that are already apparent today in some sectors and regions.
Continuing education and training is a response to structural change caused by digital technologies
Continuing education and training is the central response to this structural change, which is driven primarily by digital technologies. It is more important than ever for continuing education and training policy-makers to take early and preventative action, to reinforce skills throughout the entire course of people’s careers and to develop their talents.
„It is more important than ever for continuing education and training policy-makers to take early and preventative action, to reinforce skills throughout the entire course of people’s careers and to develop their talents. “
The basic goal is to invest strategically in continuing education and training and use the productivity gained from digital technologies to secure individuals’ employability in the long term and provide career stability. In this context, continuing education and training policy must be geared to the needs of both employers and employees. Now more than ever before, continuing education and training as well as skills development are necessary to enable people to control their own professional lives. Everyone should have enough choices to make starting a job uncomplicated, changing jobs successful and advancement possible in their working lives.
In the middle of the last decade, there was discussion of expanding and maintaining continuing vocational training and skills acquisition in the course of the Work 4.0 dialogue conducted by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. This resulted in calls for a ‘comprehensive, long-term skills and continuing education and training strategy’.3 In its coalition agreement, the new government that took office in March 2018 accordingly agreed that a National Skills Strategy was to
be developed ‘together with the social partners in close consultation with the German federal states (Länder) and all other stakeholders’. The aim was one of ‘bundling all continuing education and training programmes of the Federal Government and the Länder (federal states), gearing them to the needs of employees and companies and establishing a new culture of continuing education and training’.4
Managing change together
Expanding participation in continuing education and training and skills acquisition opportunities in Germany will only succeed if everyone pulls together. The development of the National Skills Strategy was therefore supported by a new body consisting of a wide variety of stakeholders. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research are in charge of the project. A further 15 partners from fields of politics, trade unions, employers’ and business associations, the German federal states and the Federal Employment Agency are actively involved. On 12 June 2019, only seven months after the kick-off meeting, the jointly developed strategy paper was presented by the partners. This is the first time in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany that there has been a National Skills Strategy with the basic goal of reforming, systematising and enhancing a continuing education and training policy that supports lifelong learning. It is jointly headed by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The main emphasis is on acquiring qualifications and developing skills as well as maintaining employability in the long term. The focus is on continuing vocational training.
From strategy to reliable implementation
The strategy paper contains 10 goals and lists concrete measures and commitments, projects and review mandates from all partners.5 Among other things, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is working to ensure that an internet landing portal provides a better overview of opportunities for promoting individual continuing vocational training than what is available now and simplifies application procedures in this regard. In response to the sweeping transformation processes taking place in the course of the digital revolution, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs will look at various mutually complementary collective and individual measures to promote continuing education and training in order to improve the employability of the labour force in the long term. For the transformation process towards a digital and decarbonised economy, flanking structural instruments – such as the further development of the short-time work allowance in conjunction with continuing education and training measures – are to be considered. The need for individual continuing vocational training support for skills development and retraining, including across sectors and professions, will also increase significantly. The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs will therefore examine additional government-subsidised training periods and part-time training periods that help employees to take advantage of their professional development opportunities in a self-determined manner.6 In addition, model projects support employers with organising continuing education and training in a network at regional level.
When drafting the strategy paper, the partners in the National Skills Strategy were particularly concerned not to simply formulate declarations of intent, but instead to create the basis for a new continuing education and training culture in Germany with strong new ideas, clear mandates for review and concrete measures. Motivating low-skilled workers to participate in continuing education and training is a particular priority. This is because their jobs tend to be most affected by the transformation brought about by digital technology. Their participation rate in continuing education and training measures is, however, lower. For this reason, in addition to the existing possibilities for promoting continuing education and training, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs will use legislation to create a legal entitlement to support subsequent acquisition of vocational qualifications in accordance with personal aptitude and labour market orientation. The legislation should also prolong the payment of continuing education and training bonuses for successful intermediate and final exams in the context of retraining, an idea that has been tested since 2016.
Focused and committed until 2021 and beyond
The partners of the National Skills Strategy maintain a continuing dialogue and are pursuing the goal of moving forward with implementation of the strategy. The implementation work is coordinated by a committee that meets every six months. There are topic-specific labs to deal with individual goals in greater depth. In these labs, the partners responsible for the content of the National Skills Strategy are taking a closer look at individual priority topics in order to develop proposals for solutions for further implementation. Among other things, priorities such as basic skills, reading ability, quality control in continuing education and training, the development of consulting structures and the development of instruments for strategic foresight and analysis with regard to skills development will be discussed in the topic-specific labs. The thematic labs open up the process of the National Skills Strategy even more to other social, corporate and academic actors. An initial report on the status of implementation is planned for the middle of 2021. The OECD will provide support for the implementation process of the strategy in the form of a country report on continuing vocational training in Germany.
The partners of the National Skills Strategy are working on a new culture of continuing education and training in Germany, which sees continuing education and training not as a necessary evil but as a natural part of working life. Preventative and empowering social and labour market policies which specifically combine collective and individual approaches in the promotion of continuing education and training can be the decisive factor in turning technological progress into social progress. Digital transformation can thus also be seen as an opportunity for more individual freedom and new personal opportunities for skills acquisition, employment and development.