An interview with Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann, Senior Project Manager at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum and partner of the EU FIT4FoF project
FIT4FoF, which stands for Fit for the Factory of the Future, was a three-year EU project that came to an end in December 2021 following the development and testing of different methods for preparing workers for the factory of the future. Steinbeis Europa Zentrum played a role in FIT4FoF. TRANSFER spoke about the project with project partner Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann and heard about the lessons learned when it comes to future qualification needs and training measures.
Hello Ms. Hafner-Zimmermann. What was Steinbeis Europa Zentrum’s interest in the FIT4FoF project?
We were extremely interested in taking part in this project because when we submitted our application there’d been insufficient work on future qualification needs in the manufacturing sector. Our hope as a partner in the project was to acquire additional know-how on the demand for future skills in manufacturing in order to offer our customers in industry effective support with their training activities. The most interesting part about FIT4FoF was the participatory approach to jointly identifying future qualification requirements and suitable training measures – involving staff, management, and education partners. The practical method used for the very different regional pilot projects also allowed us to learn a lot of things that would help with the support projects we work on. And then finally the European aspect of the project was important to us, because at Steinbeis Europa Zentrum we always strive to transfer examples of best practice beyond the local ecosystem.
We want European stakeholders on a broad level to have the opportunity to benefit from the results of our projects.
What role do current and future technology trends play in the project?
The project has allowed us to identify the technology trends that will be relevant to industry in the future, in order to provide information to the project partners implementing the pilot on how manufacturing will change in the coming years. Our experience is that the pilot partners and their companies find it challenging integrating this information into their established projects, so the main goal was to raise awareness for the changes in future developments and encourage our partners to consider how this will affect them and their business. The most important information that came from this project was not about future technology trends per se, but about trying to change the mindset of our industry partners and encouraging them to incorporate future thinking into their everyday activities.
One of the methods you used was co-design, which involves all stakeholders working together on the development of a solution. What’s your assessment of this approach?
I think the co-design method that was developed and piloted in FIT4FoF is extremely relevant and it’s a useful way to identify the training needs and pathways of stakeholders within an organization on a broader basis. It’s been common until now for management or HR departments to simply suggest training to employees without involving them in the decision regarding the training they should receive, or how to train them. This is where it becomes clear how profoundly innovative the FIT4FoF approach is.
Communities of practice, or CoPs, are committed communities that share similar interests and work toward a common, pre-defined goal. How important is this approach for a project like FIT4FoF, and what benefit do participants derive from it?
The communities of practice method is closely connected to the co-design process we use for FIT4FoF. Both are highly participatory and bring collective intelligence to the project, so they generate additional know-how that wouldn’t be so readily available otherwise.
So the CoPs were an important cornerstone of FIT4FoF, not just for the development and implementation phase of the pilot projects, but also beyond that. At the same time, the CoP members also benefited by increasing their knowledge, and similarly they benefited from the network that evolved.
Could you briefly summarize the key results of the FIT4FoF project for us?
Aside from the co-design method that was developed and tested for FIT4FoF, one of the most important outputs of the project was the future-of-work scenario that was developed. It offers an extremely concise and precise representation of the most important aspects of working in a “future factory,” including the technological factors that are important for Industry 4.0, but also social and societal aspects highlighted by the new approach to Industry 5.0. Without these, the European economy will be unsuccessful in the long term and we’ll struggle to achieve goals in areas such as sustainability, resilience, and strategic autonomy in Europe in the coming years.
In addition to the FIT4FoF pilot projects, we also worked together on so-called “personas” or profiles, which describe the challenges and opportunities that might arise for employees in the future and the competencies they’ll require to deal with those challenges.
The results obtained from the project are extremely well suited to stimulating and supporting discussion, not only on future developments, but also regarding training and further education requirements in manufacturing, even after completion of the project.
They can only be actively shaped by companies and their employees if they also actively think about their expectations of the future. And that’s precisely what we’re aiming to do with the FIT4FoF project: provide food for thought and offer access to good examples.
The FIT4FoF project was funded by the EU as part the Horizon 2020 program, Grant Agreement #820701, October 2018 – December 2021.
Sabine Hafner-Zimmermann (interviewee)
Senior Project Manager
Steinbeis Europe Center
Steinbeis EU for YOU (Stuttgart)
Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Stuttgart)