Minister für Wissenschaft, Weiterbildung und Kultur Prof. Dr. Konrad Wolf: Good education as a prerequisite for an autonomous life and successfully securing skilled personnel

According to a current study by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research, Germany is heading for a serious shortage of skilled employees in the so-called “STEM” fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). In Rhineland-Palatinate alone, there will be shortage of about 25,000 qualified skilled employees in these fields. What can we do about it? The Rhineland-Palatinate state government has started a STEM initiative in order to even better link up and further develop the many existing measures and programmes.

In order to examine existing approaches and to develop new ones, we invited all involved parties to a STEM round table meeting. Together with representatives from the commercial sector, trade unions, the German Employment Agency and industry associations, we will engage in constructive discussions on how to successfully secure skilled personnel. This dialogue-oriented approach has more than proven its worth at the Oval Table meetings with the Rhineland-Palatinate State Premier. Within this framework, experts from the above-mentioned fields have been discussing ways to secure skilled employees for many years and have put into condensed form numerous measures in the state’s strategy for securing skilled employees between 2014 and 2017. This strategy will be further developed over the coming year and updated for the years thereafter.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, we agree that an essential basis for successfully securing skilled employees is an efficient, open and socially just education system that guarantees all children and young people decent opportunities for a good education. At the same time, a good education is also a key requirement for an independent life.
One very central step for one’s further life and career takes place after gaining one’s first school leaving certificate. What am I suited for? Dual vocational training? Or should I go to university? Or should I do both? What is the right choice? In order to support young people and young adults in this phase as far as possible, we have continued to expand school-based vocational and tertiary studies orientation over the last few years. Vocational and tertiary fairs are held at all “secondary modern plus” schools, integrated comprehensive schools and grammar schools where experts from the commercial sector, universities and colleges and the German Federal Employment Agency introduce the various training and educational paths available as equal options. In this way, grammar school pupils learn about the options involved in vocational training and pupils from secondary modern and comprehensive schools find out about the options involved in doing a university degree.

It is also about making clear that the decision to do vocational training is by no means a decision to rule out tertiary studies. In Rhineland-Palatinate, many years ago we opened up access to tertiary studies for those with vocational qualifications and are among the top states in Germany to do so. Anyone who has completed vocational training and can demonstrate at least two years’ related job experience is eligible to take up tertiary studies with no restrictions at a university of applied sciences, but with restrictions at university depending on the subject. There is direct eligibility for access to all tertiary studies for master tradesmen and holders of other comparable advanced qualifications.

At the same time, the “duales Studium” (combined vocational courses and tertiary studies) is an attractive option for those wishing to combine an intensely practical and vocational qualification and a tertiary qualification, where practically-oriented learning in a company is combined with a high-level academic education. The training locations of company and university/college coordinate with each other so that everything runs smoothly and the components of theory and practice complement each other optimally.

Dual vocational/academic courses are attractive not only to students but also to companies that want to hold onto highly-­qualified employees during the training stages and that can also benefit from the contacts with the university/college concerned. The development of dual vocational/academic in Rhineland-Palatinate shows that this is a successful model. Accordingly, the number of courses offered incresaed from 17 in the 2008/2009 winter semester to 67 in the 2015/2016 winter semester, thereby almost quadrupling. The number of students in these courses rose from 800 to over 2,600 in the same period. We intend to retain this development in future.

Professionally qualified and “sandwich students” – these are two examples that show how colourful and diverse the world at universities and colleges has become. To make sure degree courses can react more flexibly to varying kinds of life situations and target groups, the Rhineland-Palatinate state government is supporting universities and colleges in trying out innovative study formats as part of the German Tertiary Education Pact. From 2016 to 2020, universities and colleges in Rhineland-Palatinate will receive funding of 53.5 million euros for programmes that will improve the quality of teaching, the inclusion of women in academia and removing artificial barriers between academic education and vocational training. This funding will finance almost 100 individual projects, ranging from digitalisation to supporting STEM teaching and offer much potential for identifying successful methods which will be transferred to universities/colleges and subjects and which may thus lead to improvements generally.

All this shows that education and science have top priority in Rhineland-Palatinate: they are crucial for the social and economic efficiency and future viability of our state.

Prof. Dr. Konrad Wolf
After working at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching and at the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems, Konrad Wolf received a professorship in Microelectronic Components and Semiconductor Technology at the Kaiserslautern Institute of Technology in 2001, which he also represented as Vice-President of Teaching and Research from 2005 to 2009. He was elected President of the Kaiserslautern Institute of Technology in 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was Deputy Chairman and from 2012 to 2014 Chairman, of the State Tertiary Education Conference (LHPK). Since 18 May 2016, he has been Minister of Science, Higher Education and Culture of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.