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Permanent change and complexity as driving forces for lifelong learning

How "on-the-job learning" helps employees to continuously develop their skills in Industry 4.0 contexts

7. April 2017

Virtually all processes in modern working environments do not only take place significantly faster than they did a few years ago, but are also increasingly fully or partially automated. Above all, the role of robots grows significantly as the always available colleagues take over various tasks, do the groundwork of their human counterparts or remind them of what must be done next. Digitalisation transforms traditional jobs and work contexts as it makes certain human activities obsolete, which were, until recently, essential parts of the workplace. Likewise, driven by increasingly shortened individual production and innovation cycles, new tasks are added in the areas of product design, quality management and in production itself. In such highly dynamic work environments, employees are always faced with the challenge of leaving their comfort zone and to acquire new skills. Christian Wachter, CEO at IMC, explains which comprehensive training solutions are used globally by companies of various sizes and sectors, tells how the acquisition of skills in the era of Industry 4.0 is changing and talks about the challenges and opportunities these developments entail for companies and employees.

Mr Wachter, what do you think have been the changes that most influenced learning in the Industry 4.0 contexts lately?

Christian Wachter: We observe that parallel to the digitalisation of processes and procedures, the way people want to learn, work and live is about to change considerably. This again has a significant impact on learning processes and competency development, which are more important than ever. Particularly the industrial sector is affected by this. Again and again, the VUCO principle is being cited to describe various types of modern working contexts. The acronym can be easily deciphered: the V stands for "volatility". That means that production cycles are getting shorter and that the way innovations conquer and transform new markets tends to be less predictable. The labor markets are no exception in this context. This leads us to the "U" of the formula, which stands for "uncertainty." Today, many employees in companies must ask themselves whether the knowledge they possess now will still allow them to do a good job in the future. The "C" stands for a new form of “complexity” employees are exposed to today because most activities require holistic or problem-oriented and often self-responsible thinking. The "O” at the end stands for "omnipresence", which means that the changes described above affect nearly every industry and can be found almost everywhere today.

And which consequences does this concretely have for individual employees?

Christian Wachter: The changes for the individual employees are fundamental. The dynamics of certain activity fields within the industrial context has become so tremendous today that individual employees continuously need to identify their knowledge gaps and ask themselves how they can acquire new skills as efficiently and quickly as possible. Due to the steady flow of information these learning processes take place on a life-long basis today. If we consider the situation employees in modern working environments never stop learning. It goes without saying that other factors such as time management also play an important role. The more efficiently employees learn new topics which are relevant for their daily tasks directly at the workplace, the better this is for the learning success itself. It allows the employees to immediately apply what they have learned which also has a positive impact on their work-life balance. That is why learning units become smaller and smaller and increasingly develop towards "learning nuggets" which can easily be understood and applied. Furthermore, the Industry 4.0 context is literally made for “on-the-job learning” directly at the production line or the machine as this is the only way to make the complex processes comprehensible and tangible. Even though learning processes often take place in an informal way, employees want to be able to demonstrate which skills they recently acquired. Therefore, companies are now faced with the necessity of documenting even small learning progresses of their employees in the form of nanodegrees or learning badges and should offer their staff the possibility to store them in their individual profiles.

How can training providers such as IMC empower industry employees to efficiently acquire new skills on a life-long basis?

Christian Wachter: Through the extensive experience gained within the industry, IMC has the expertise which is necessary to offer holistic training solutions. The didactic basis as well as the learning content tailored to the target group and the context and, finally, the matching technology allow for a smooth interaction. Particularly within the Industry 4.0-context we perceive the necessity to increasingly integrate the acquisition of new skills into the existing workflows, in other words to promote learning "on-the-job". We continuously motivate the respective training managers to create working environments in which the acquisition of competencies "on-the-job" becomes reality. Above that, we encourage them to use nanodegrees to promote the traceability of newly acquired skills and to integrate trends such as gamification and video-based learning into their strategy. In this context, we play the role of consultants who try to create the best learning environment in cooperation with the customer. One of the main challenges for us as consultants is to raise awareness for the fact that employees need free spaces to learn autonomously and to show the employees that these free spaces exist.

Which role does the IMC research department play when it comes to recognising upcoming training needs and developing suitable solutions?

Christian Wachter: A very important one. As a provider of holistic training solutions, we see it as our task to evaluate which support employees need at which point of time. In this context, we also ask ourselves which information the employees should be provided with directly at the machine and how this information should be presented. Furthermore, we evaluate on which devices the information should be displayed so that it can be understood without difficulties, including tablet, external screen on the machine, data glasses and more. For instance, it is possible to show how to safely replace a work piece on a machine via a 3D video simulation on data glasses or an external touch screen on the outer side of the machine before the employee performs the respective task. What works best in this context can be measured and evaluated afterwards. This is where didactics and technology come together and this is exactly what fascinates us most about our job.

For the first time this year, IMC will be represented at the Hannover Fair. Do you want to seize this opportunity to extend your presence in the Industry 4.0 sector?

Christian Wachter: Absolutely. We are very excited about the fair since the most important trends and developments of the current 4th industrial revolution will be discussed. In this context, some key words such as smart manufacturing, predictive maintenance or the digital twins of production sites, which allow a permanent comparison of the product requirements and the current construction status come to my mind. These trends allow us to recognise future training requirements in the area of smart training and to implement them on various levels of our service portfolio. At the Hannover Fair we can swap ideas with specialist trainers and use this information to take next steps in the areas of concept and product development. Moreover, the Hannover Fair makes it possible for us to present our holistic training solution as well as the learning factory we developed in cooperation with ZEISS as a special highlight. The learning factory allows engineers and industry employees to walk along the production line with their tablet while the machine is filmed via the computer. The employee can watch animations, instruction videos and sees descriptions, which are relevant for the next process step ‒ for example for processing stations such as separating stops or a conveyer belt. Furthermore, the employee has the possibility to choose topics he is interested in and watch animated sequences or gather additional information. In case the filling level of the machine should be checked or a work piece needs to be released, which is stuck, the machine transmits this information to a technician ‒ directly via an app. At the Hannover Fair, visitors will get the chance to walk along a short production line with a tablet or use the data glasses to discover modern digital learning with the ZEISS learning factory.

Interview partner: CEO IMC AG, Christian Wachter