Editorial: Continuing education is indispensable for the world of work of tomorrow!

Friedrich Hubert Esser

Dear readers,

Learning during the work process remains a part of the development of employees, even after they have completed training. This concept represents a core element of a skilled workforce’s effectiveness and ability to adapt and thus guarantees that companies are able to be competitive. It is not, however, an adequate approach with regard to meeting future workplace or labour market specific requirements. Competences initially acquired are not normally sufficient to last for the whole of a working life. In a world of work where quantities of data are increasing and the half-life of knowledge is becoming ever shorter, continuing education has been a must rather than an optional extra for some considerable time. Nevertheless, this is still an area which is subject to asymmetrical development in terms of objectives and reality.

Growing significance – stagnating participation

The multifarious formats and extremely heterogeneous structure of privately and publicly regulated continuing education make it difficult to obtain a clear view of the numerous opportunities available. Transparency continues to be lacking. And despite the fact that policy makers, trade and industry and the academic research sector never tire of emphasising the significance of continuing education, this is not reflected in a discernibly higher rate of participation. In light of the continually growing demand for skilled workers, there is thus still a requirement to promote continuing education. The focus in this regard needs to be on targeting the unemployed, older workers, persons from a migrant background and in particular employees of small and medium-sized companies.

Continuing education in the World of Work 4.0

The challenges facing continuing training become particularly clear in the World of Work 4.0. The digital transformation process is bringing about unprecedented shifts in work and services. The ability to deal with high-performance IT infrastructures and to work and learn in virtual and augmented reality environments or with the assistance of explanatory videos and online tutorials has long since been part of the here and now rather than forming some kind of futuristic vision. Educational and continuing training management in the Economy 4.0 bears a co-responsibility for helping to shape this process of transformation. New forms of continuing education need to be developed to back up existing “traditional” provision as we seek to tap into the areas of potential offered by digital teaching and learning formats. Intelligent digital assistance systems are likely to play a significant role in this regard. In future, lifelong learning will involve the capacity to access necessary knowledge in a specific and situationally related way in mobile or stationary form depending on requirements. This will allow learning contents to be configured in an individual manner and thus aligned to the personal knowledge needs of skilled workers on an ongoing basis.

An intelligent and creative mix of provision is needed

Previous developments clearly indicate that the future will also not bring any “digital” patent recipes to meet the requirements of Economy 4.0. According to our present state of knowledge, an intelligent and creative mixture of conventionally taught and network-aided provision will provide a qualitatively appropriate vehicle for being able to deliver continuing education to skilled workers in a sustainable way within the work process. However, smart continuing education provision also requires smart continuing training staff who are in a position to take a creative approach towards combining tried and trusted didactic know-how with new technology. We also need to act today in order to train the architects of learning of the future!

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Hubert Esser, President of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2018): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin