“Lifelong learning is a mutual investment“

“Lifelong learning is a mutual investment“

Peter M. Wald, professor for Human Resource Management, researches on leadership and digitisation. He considers training key to the acceptance of new technologies and their successful application.

Europeans, especially Germans, are tech-sceptics. Roughly half have a positive attitude towards digitisation. Are you surprised?
Peter M. Wald: Not so much about the fact itself but the distinct numbers. One could certainly investigate whether employers in tech-savvy states like India and China have a generally different self-understanding. I still feel that in Germany employers take a passive role in the training of their workforce.

What do you mean exactly?
One must be sensitive. No one can get out of digitisation. The labour market is changing severely. The car industry’s switch to electric mobility alone will cost many jobs, as a recent study by the Institute of Employment Research shows.

Many such predictions have been made since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Still, there aren’t fewer jobs.
I still think this time it’s not just a rumour. Digitisation will bring about substantial shifts. Another car example: I might not be an expert and still I know that an electric motor is completely different from a combustion engine.

Peter M. Wald is a professor for Human Resource Management at the Leipzig University of Applied Sciences. He researches and teaches on leadership and digitisation and considers training key to the acceptance of new technologies and their successful application (Photo: HTWK Leipzig)

What can people do about that?
You have to understand what’s going on and critically analyse things. Though not everybody has to know programming: people are allowed to have only superficial knowledge of digitisation. For software development you need more specialists. We need more training options, even on junior level; with micro-learning we could integrate learning into actual work-processes. Employers must not be left to train by themselves – as the study shows. But what’s more important than the quantity of training is the quality. Training must be structured and tied closely to work processes, with clearly phrased goals. There is increasingly more overlap of working and learning but at the end of the day it’s not enough to offer courses that are virtually unrelated to the reality of work. Therefore, learning needs to be better integrated into work processes. And also workers are asking questions like: how to deal with a growing information flow? How do I get media competence? Which social media platforms do you actually need to be on? But also: how to learn learning?

Would a whole working day per week for skills training be realistic?
I’d be cautious. But I could regard it as a mutual investment. Employees invest their leisure time into training, companies invest working time. Such training could also be an answer to a shortage of skilled workers. I consider lifelong learning a mutual investment.

Still, businesses want their numbers to add up at the end of the day (and the quarter) …
… and that’s why – to achieve that – companies can’t afford, in the long-term, not to intensively train their workforce. Because they wouldn’t be able to compete anymore. For me, that’s strategic management: the ability to run a business as usual and simultaneously make out innovative solutions and even work on disruptive business models. In addition, long-term relations to universities must me established to find new talent early on. Good management should make this possible.

If you train your employees well, you will save on recruiting later on?
Partly. You can’t go without hiring specialists.

Next problem: try finding data analysts, web developers or even AI experts – let alone pay them.
Sure. But tailored training opportunities can work here as well, as they are important factors for the attractiveness of a job. And our studies agree. For IT students and junior level employees, skills training and their career path, respectively, are highly important. And there are more needs not necessarily connected to money: they want nice colleagues. And they want to identify with the company’s values – a ‘cultural fit’. And they want to design their own working conditions, such as working time and space. Here, employers can achieve a lot through flexibility.

Online courses want to profit from skills training but are relatively uncommon in Europe – we are looking at one-digit percent here.
There are traditional reasons for that. Critiques would call our institutions ‘dusty’. Many businesses and universities haven’t adopted new possibilities, like webinars. But then, options like Udemy are very exciting. And it’s going to grow. Not only is it more accessible for students but it’s considerably cheaper. Many universities are classically structured though, with a lecturer in the front. At least, there are gradually more offers. We, too, are testing ’flipped classroom’ concepts, where curriculum content can be learned at home and then practised at uni. We have definitely made progress there. But it can be much approved on. In introducing those concepts, human resource departments will have be considerably more active than they were in the past if they want to make skills training worthwhile.

Interview: Friedrich Pohl

Lifelong learning is key to the acceptance of new technologies and their successful application (Photo: Phototalk)