Vocational education training research in the age of digital transformation: “Let it be” or “Here comes the sun”?

Following his appointment last year as Professor of Vocational Education and Research at Paderborn University, BIBB Research Director Prof. Ertl has now delivered an inaugural lecture entitled “Vocational education and training research in the age of digital transformation” and posed a musically inspired question: “Let it be” or “Here comes the sun”?

In his lecture, Professor Ertl clearly illustrated which approaches and structural elements of the German vocational education and training system have been successful and have stood the test of time (“Let it be”), and which developments present particular opportunities (“Here comes the sun”).

He forcefully made the case for maintaining the systemic basic structures of vocational education and training in Germany. He explained that, by combining theory and practice, the German system of vocational education and training has been shown to contribute to facilitating transitions into qualified activities and that it is internationally recognised as a reference model. However, targeted ongoing development of the system is required to address the current challenges being faced.

Professor Ertl regarded the issue of matching as one of these challenges. Using data from the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, he highlighted the reasons why supply does not meet demand in the German training market. He explained that the solution included a responsibility for the regions because extreme regional differences are a feature of supply-related problems and the filling of training places in the training market.

In Professor Ertl’s view, the huge change arising from the digitalisation of the working and professional environment is producing opportunities, which is the reason why he adopted a nuanced approach in presenting various perspectives on these changes in his lecture. Prof. Ertl, who held a professorship at Oxford University from 2004 to 2017 and who is an acknowledged expert in the British vocational education and training system, provided new insights on this issue by using a comparison of the German and British systems to help highlight the opportunities and challenges digitalisation presents for vocational education and training.

Prof. Ertl: “The digital transformation represents a catalyst for a new beginning in German VET! A challenge for research is to shape this beginning in dialogue with policy making and practice.”

f.l.t.r. BIBB President Prof. Esser, Prof. Ertl and Prof. Sureth-Sloane (Paderborn University)

To conclude, Prof. Ertl presented how the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) is meeting these challenges in its research and introduced the BIBB Research Strategy 2025, in particular the support for graduates and future thematic clusters.

In September 2017, at the same time as his appointment as Director of Research and Vice President of the BIBB, Prof. Ertl took up his professorship for vocational education and training research in Department 5, Business and Human Resource Education, at the Faculty of Business Administration and Economics at Paderborn University. On the basis of a cooperation agreement between BIBB and Paderborn University, the joint appointment reflects BIBB’s closer collaboration with universities and the institution’s increased networking in the higher education sector.