February 2018 - Digital Education | New Work

Bringing Education and Work into the 21st Century

How education and employment policies need to be updated for a digital society. Lucia Falkenberg, CPO of the eco Association, explores the needs from a German perspective.

Bringing Education and Work into the 21st Century

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The eco Association’s Core Demands for a Modern Internet Policy

Information technology to be introduced as a compulsory subject at all school types across all states and for all age groups.

Digitalization is radically altering the labor market. Like no other technical innovation before it, digital change is affecting professions, work processes, and job specifications. The systems of education in Germany, however, do not take due account of the changed demands for school leavers’ competencies in a digitalized world – foundational IT education and the teaching of essential skills in the use of information technologies are often not integrated into lessons, while the technical equipment in many places is outdated. In European comparison, this places Germany slightly below the average. Indeed, the ICILS study reports on “young people's computer skills in spite of school”. The available competencies emerging also vary according to different school-type.

To enable the next generation to get off to a smooth start in working life and not to miss the international boat, it is imperative that all children and young people, regardless of age or educational level, acquire and develop central IT skills based on concrete curricula which apply across all German states.

The groundwork should start at primary school. The skills to be learnt ought not to be confined to “pure” IT, but should be extended to include a mix of media skills and the ability to deal with digital offers. In particular, learning to evaluate and correlate information is of paramount importance. While almost everyone nowadays is able to find information on the Internet, its evaluation and use is not taught anywhere, and it is therefore controlled by the minority. This must change.

Education in the field of IT security skills must also be promoted by the states. In eco’s opinion, it is imperative that basic IT security knowledge is imparted and that critical appraisal of IT security aspects are included in academic and in-company training. 

In sum, skills should be acquired to ensure later meaningful participation in the workforce and social life of a digital society.

Fields of study and vocational training must be designed to meet the requirements of the digitalized labor market.

The concept of comprehensive and universal teaching of core competencies must also be followed through in vocational training and university studies. Acquiring theoretical knowledge alone is no longer sufficient to allow graduates to manage the everyday work of the future. As such, vocational colleges and universities must also recognize that education needs to incorporate the practice-based application of new information technologies and media – tailored to the subject in question.

Universities should also align the demands of an increasingly digital economy with their educational opportunities, given that the professional applications for young academics are becoming more varied and more specific. Emphasis should be placed on creating programs of study that also offer business-oriented training.

Labor law regulations must be adapted to meet the changing demands

There is some basis to the fear that, in certain sectors, technical innovations will see jobs being replaced in the future. However, there are no grounds for panic. While it can be expected that in the future certain activities will no longer be carried out solely by people, new fields of activity will emerge that do not yet exist today. A study by the German Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) also concludes that, “the fear of major job cuts in the course of digitalization is unfounded”.

Over and above this will come demographic change: By 2060, around 10 million fewer people of working age will be available to the German labor market. Even today, the economy can no longer find enough young people to fill existing training places, with many industries complaining about a shortage of skilled workers. For all of these reasons, the transition and digitalization of the labor market should be perceived more as an opportunity than as a threat.

Policy-makers should therefore not make the mistake of allowing concerns about jobs prevent companies from introducing the innovations and investments necessary for the realignment of work. On the contrary, the government must also, on its part, invest in developing new concepts and technical adaptations.

Digitalization will produce tremendous benefits for all workers. Distances between the place of residence and the workplace won’t matter, and new, flexible ways of reconciling work and family life will be opened up for parents. Digitalization also offers great advantages in the area of inclusion: Physical restrictions are irrelevant for digital working in many areas and also enable the inclusion of people who were previously excluded from participating in working life. This applies not only to people with disabilities, but also to older people.

Labor law provisions must be adapted to suit flexible and mobile forms of work. This should also pertain to regulations for working hours, weekend work, compulsory rest periods, and requirements for the workplace.

 It goes without saying, of course, that workers' rights must not be neglected; what is needed are flexible provisions that do not allow new working models to be held to ransom because of rigid and outdated regulations. It is important to reconcile aspects of health and safety at work and social security aspects with the right to self-determination of employees.

Read eco's complete Internet Policy Agenda with its total of 30 core demands of the Internet industry for a modern network policy in Germany.