Author(s):Andreas Saniter (presenting), Falk Howe (presenting)

Conference:ECER 2017

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 07 B, Challenges of Workplace Learning

Paper Session



Chair:Fernando Marhuenda


Industry 4.0. – Disruptive Or Incremental Impact On VET?

In the recent years the amount of publications and declarations of employer’s organisations referring to “Industry 4.0“, “smart factories“, “work 4.0“, or even “vocational education and training (VET) 4.0“ increased rapidly. But most of them are on a superficial level; predicting “disruptive technologies” (Mc Kinsey 2013) or “much higher requirements for complexity, abstraction and problem-solving” (Kagermann et al., 2013, p.57) – plausible, but not very meaningful. And, even worse, such predictions are often driven rather by lobbyism than by evidence, an example was pointed out by (Pfeiffer, 2015, p.13), who mirrored studies that foresee either positive or negative effects on labour markets – depending on the author’s interests. In the same publication (ibid p. 26) she worked out 4 dimensions of industry 4. 0.:

1 social media@production, e.g. shift doodle;

2 data@production, e.g. internet of things;

3 next generation production, e.g. additive manufacturing;

4 automation@body and mind, e.g. wearables

and summarises that “[…] we hardly know anything about the empirical connections between work and technicization. And we know still less about the variety of manufacturing work that exists today” (ibid p.10).

Taking this summary for serious did we decide, together with an European consortium, to focus only on one of the dimensions of Industry 4.0, “next generation production” and also on one sector only, the “European machine tool industry” – to throw a glance behind the mask.

Project partners (details can be found at come from four European countries (Spain, Italy, Germany, and Belgium) and represent sector organisations, Vet-schools, public bodies, and VET-research centres. Our project, running from 11.2015 till 10.2018, focuses on three main research and development activities:

1.) Skills panorama: We have drawn a comprehensive picture of the variety of manufacturing work in machine tool industry and found 14 “spheres of activity”, describing holistic work-processes in the sector.

2.) Skills gap: We decided to focus on one of the 14 spheres, “additive manufacturing” and figured out the skills that are needed to work in this innovative area and that are not covered by curricula of “industry mechanics” (in DE) and comparable vocations in the other countries.

3.) Learning units: We will develop a row of units for skilled workers resp. apprentices that support acquiring skills needed in additive manufacturing workplaces. Units will be both physically and virtual available – in four languages, offering same content for learners coming from different educational backgrounds.


To figure out the "skills panorama", main methods used were a survey with a questionnaire answered by approx. 60 managers from machine tool sector in Spain, Italy and Germany, and “expert-worker-workshops” (EWW, see f. e. Bremer et al. 2001).
The underlying objective of EWW is to describe occupational profiles (jobs) in the workplace by relying on core professional tasks, so-called “spheres of activity”. EWW aim at outlining what professional tasks are deemed relevant for a range of job profiles in the machine tool sector. CNC- removing production (metal), for instance, is a core sphere of activity of machine tool sector. Three reasons explain why focusing on spheres of activity to describe workers jobs in the sector is a promising approach:
• Workers are better equipped than external observers (incl. managers) in describing comprehensively their tasks
• A bottom-up approach fits well the context: occupations are well-described if one looks at the different professional tasks composing them
• All sorts of professional tasks need a sufficient amount of knowledge and skills to be performed successfully.
EWW lead to the specific definition of professional tasks, then, once these are obtained, they may be grouped together into well-defined jobs. Two types of actors take part in the workshops: facilitators and participants. Facilitators smooth out the discussion among participants with a neutral, yet possibly well-informed, attitude to the discussion. Workers with expertise in technologically advanced work processes who participate to the workshop, instead, bring insightful opinions on machines, tools, methods, work organisation, etc.
To figure out the "skills gap", main method used was “learning station analysis” (LSA, see f. e. Saniter et al. 2016), focussing on methods, tools, surrounding, etc. at workplaces, were additive manufacturing is already performed. Two main goals are obtained through “learning station analysis”: The first is documenting the potential of selected possible learning stations in the workplace; the second is illustrating the organization of core work to be conducted in relation to the learning station. This implies spotting the specific future learning potential of additive manufacturing in terms of skills development for the machine tool industry, as well as describing the organization of core additive manufacturing tasks in the selected workplace. The focus of LSA shifts from the core spheres of activity to potential areas for the future development of such spheres.

Expected Outcomes

Our presentation will focus on the first two activities sketched above; we will depict the broad scope of existing competencies of skilled workers in machine tool sector – but also the similarities of additive manufacturing and other non-removing technologies. We will argue that there is indeed the need of a (minor) adaption of existing VET-profiles (e. g. due to other materials) and of increasing self-confidence of skilled workforce by lowering uncertainties about concrete requirements of new technologies but we will expose that scenarios like a specialisation “additive manufacturer” (VDI 2015) or even a new VET-profile are far beyond empirical evidence.


Project homepage:
Bremer et al. 2001: Experten-Facharbeiter-Workshops als Instrument der berufswissenschaftlichen Qualifikationsforschung.
Kagermann et al. 2013: Umsetzungsempfehlungen für das Zukunftsprojekt Industrie 4.0. Abschlussbericht des Arbeitskreises Industrie 4.0. Frankfurt/M.: Plattform 4.0.
Mc Kinsey 2013:
Pfeiffer 2015: Effects of Industry 4.0 on vocational education and training.
Saniter et al. 2016: Guidelines on how to find, analyse, and use the learning potentials of work places.[EN].pdf
VDI 2015:
All internet references visited on 13.01.2017.

Author Information

Andreas Saniter (presenting)
Universitaet Bremen
Falk Howe (presenting)
University of Bremen
Institute Technology and Education