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Education and Skilled Professionals

Building skills for a digitalised workplace

What will work be like in an increasingly digitalised world? Which skills will we require in the future? The digital transformation of our economy and society was a key theme of the employment and education policy debate in 2016. Following on from the publication of a Green Paper on the subject, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) organised a dialogue process with associations and institutions on the topic of “Work 4.0”. The outcomes are outlined in a White Paper published in February 2017.

One of the key calls to action formulated with Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the 4th National STEM Summit in June was to ensure that digital education forms an integral part of teaching and teacher training. In October, Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka launched the Educational Offensive for the Digital Knowledge-Based Society, a strategy for driving the digital transformation right across the education system, from early childhood and school education to vocational training, higher education and continuing professional development. Finally, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs unveiled its Education in the Digital World Strategy in December. acatech participated at various different levels in all of these debates.

Education in the digital transformation

Today, the ability to use digital media confidently and an understanding of the forces driving the digital transformation are key requirements for digital literacy and participation in the changes taking place in our economy and society. While schools have an important role to play in helping people to acquire the relevant skills, it is not necessary to teach “digitalisation” as a separate subject in its own right. Instead, it is crucial to provide students with a solid grounding in the STEM subjects that can be applied in practice to the digital world, as well as to ensure that all subjects are given a “digital spin”. It is especially important for teaching methods to incorporate basic ways of using digital technology. 

As well as basic IT literacy, skills such as entrepreneurial thinking, willingness to embrace change, collaboration and agile working methods are all becoming more and more important. Accordingly, it is necessary for schools and teacher training institutions to forge even closer links with industry and science. acatech made the case for this approach at the 4th National STEM Summit in Berlin in June 2016.

DIGITAL ASSISTANCE SYSTEMS IN THE SMART FACTORY: In the joint project “APPsist – Intelligent Knowledge Services for Smart Production”, partners from academia, industry and civil society developed prototypes to demonstrate how smart assistants will be able to help workers keep pace with the digital transformation by providing them with needs-based knowledge on the job. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel was among those to receive a demonstration during the National IT Summit. In this project, which was funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), acatech was responsible for coordinating the advisory board which advised the project partners on strategic issues and formulated recommendations for implementing the project’s findings.

The future of work: Providing the freedom to shape change 

The digital transformation will bring about huge changes in the value structures of industry and the service sector within a very short space of time. This will include new forms of corporate and work organisation. acatech envisages a positive future for work in which all types of work are equally accepted. Empowered freelancers in particular are becoming increasingly important to employers in the digital world of work. There is also a need for progressive governance that provides the freedom to experiment and allows a flexible approach to change. These were the conclusions drawn by the HR directors of several large enterprises during in-depth discussions about the future of work with acatech and the Jacobs Foundation. The results were published in an acatech IMPULSE report that members of the acatech HR Working Group presented to the Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor, Helge Braun, at the Federal Chancellery in April 2016.


“Against the backdrop of demographic change, digitalisation provides us with an opportunity to compensate for future labour shortages through productivity gains. Getting to grips with digitalisation is therefore critical to securing our competitiveness and the fabric of our society. I would like to thank acatech and the Jacobs Foundation for their thought-provoking insights.”

Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor, Helge Braun (3rd from left), receiving the acatech IMPULSE report Die digitale Transformation gestalten – Was Personalvorstände zur Zukunft der Arbeit sagen


In order to shape the new world of work, businesses need the chance to trial and experiment with new ways of working. The social partners must work together to identify how good working conditions might be viably regulated in the future. A platform for discussing these issues is provided by the workshop series The Future of Industrial Work that acatech has been running with the Hans Böckler Foundation since 2014. At a workshop on SMEs in the mechanical engineering industry held in June 2016, the managing directors of two companies from North Rhine-Westphalia presented practical examples of how Industrie 4.0 processes had been introduced in their organisations. This was followed by a discussion of digital assistants with representatives of academia, the private sector and the trade unions.

The need to rapidly drive forward the transformation process within companies was also very much to the fore at the annual meeting of the acatech Senate in Munich, where over 70 leading decision-makers discussed “The Future of Work and Management”. They concluded that the key to a successful digital transformation is rapid upskilling allied with a management culture that promotes flexible collaboration, decentralised decision-making and entrepreneurship at every level, as well as allowing employees the freedom to develop their creative and innovative potential.  

acatech projects in the thematic field of Education and Skilled Professionals in 2016

Completed projects  
The Laboratory within Engineering Education July 2012 - Sep. 2016
Advisory board for the project APPsist – Intelligent Knowledge Services for Smart Production June 2014 - Dec. 2016
Ongoing projects  
Barometer of Young Talents in the STEM Subjects July 2013 - June 2017
Workshop series: Industrie 4.0 – The Future of Industrial Work Dec. 2014 - June 2017
Drop-out Rates in the Engineering Sciences Aug. 2015 - Dec. 2017
National Skills Monitoring (NKM) – Pilot Phase Feb. 2016 - Dec. 2017
HR Working Group – Forum for HR Directors on the Future of Work May 2014 - Dec. 2017
Innovation Indicator July 2015 - Dec. 2017