The German business model is based, among other things, on a training system which is sure to be unique throughout the world. Ensuring people receive thorough training is achieved through a dual education system underpinned by academic education.
Recent studies show that this apprenticeship and training system plays a pivotal role in tackling business complexity, especially when it comes to technical challenges. It is therefore little wonder that the companies that are in the industries hiring large numbers of employees with MINT qualifications – that is mathematics, IT, (natural) science, and technology – engage more in research and develop more innovations. There is a direct correlation between a company’s ability to innovate and its access to qualified workers – not just people with a business background but also from the world of science and academia.
But even the best training infrastructure in the world is of no use if there is a dearth of specialists in the very technical professions that are crucial to Germany – key IT jobs, technicians, engineers, traditional metalworking and electronics, full-time specialists. According to a report issued by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, there was a shortfall of 78,000 specialists in 2016. By 2025, the specialist gap will widen to 135,000. So it’s time to do something!
Aside from providing people with specialist training, what we need are initiatives from companies, politics, and society in general. Sports and cultural pursuits have been part of school activities for a long time now, whereas topics such as entrepreneurship, invention, and creativity do not get much attention. The fact that initiatives make sense in these areas can be seen in examples like the Artur Fischer Erfinderpreis (Inventor’s Award), the youth startup contest “Jugend grundet”, the “mikromakro” program, the knowledge factory “Wissensfabrik Deutschland”, the student research centers now established in Baden-Wurttemberg, and the youth research talent initiative “Jugend forscht”.
Aside from offering these initiatives, it is also important to give schools plenty of freedom to experiment. There is no guarantee that teachers will simply invest their free time in projects and feel any sense of commitment to driving things forward or providing schoolchildren with the support they need. This is one area where support from politicians is also needed.
One thing that was aptly demonstrated by this year’s Steinbeis Day is that schoolchildren come up with some ingenious ideas and can turn their startup ideas into a reality. The inventiveness, creativity, and the fun young people have with such topics was there for all to see. Steinbeis is involved in this field out of a sense of conviction, but it also knows that it shares a societal responsibility for the future of our country.
I do hope you enjoy reading this latest edition of Transfer magazine and that it inspires some ideas for activities with young people.
Wolfgang Muller is director of two Steinbeis Enterprises, Infothek and Know-How + Transfer, both of which are based in the Steinbeis House in Villingen-Schwenningen. He is also a foundation council member of an inventor award called the Baden-Wurttemberg Artur Fischer Erfinderpreis.