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The skills that are becoming more important as a result of digitalisation

Any technical revolution will make certain skills more important.  

Digitalisation is no exception to that rule, and yet there is usually a wide gap between good intentions on the one hand and practical action on the other. The Fraunhofer Academy’s new study about vision and reality in the context of digital skills is very revealing in this regard. Some 150 manufacturing, IT, logistics, pharmaceutical, chemical, energy and telecommunications companies were surveyed as part of the study. In the case of both SMEs and large companies, 86 percent of respondents considered a willingness to learn and the ability to identify overarching process and system links to be very or largely relevant. All the same, it seems this acknowledgement has not yet translated into a new approach. Only around 30 percent of respondents indicated that these skills are firmly anchored in the corporate culture. It’s a similar story with specialist cyber security and digital sovereignty skills (relevant: 71 percent; skills lacking: 34 percent). So it’s time to act, but what’s the exact situation in mechanical engineering? Which skills related to digitalisation are particularly important in this sector?

IT know-how, interdisciplinarity and the ability to change

It goes without saying that IT skills are highly relevant in the digitalisation of mechanical engineering. It’s important to make a distinction here, though. Broadly speaking, basic skills are required rather than a particular specialisation. This increases the general demands on mechanical engineers, because basic IT knowledge will be essential in the future – not least due to ever-growing volumes of data. Abstraction skills are therefore increasingly important in assessing which data is relevant and how it can be interpreted.

The skill of interdisciplinary thinking is directly linked to this. It’s not a question of staff completely abandoning their particular disciplines, but more one of broadening their horizons and moving away from the silo mentality that traditionally dominates companies. The key role in successful digitalisation played by agile project management methods such as Scrum is very telling. The ideal of lifelong learning is also highly relevant in this context. Employees must therefore be unprejudiced and open to new disciplines and approaches. Under no circumstances should this be regarded as a burden or obligation. Acquiring knowledge should be enjoyable, and this ability to change in response to digitalisation pays off in terms of future career opportunities.

Social skills ever more relevant as a result of digitalisation

Staff are under more pressure than ever to adapt flexibly to all kinds of contexts and dialogue partners – from new business models and partners to global coordination with the help of digital solutions such as the item Engineeringtool. This also involves acting as an intermediary between different departments and levels in the hierarchy. Design engineers, for example, will increasingly take on project management tasks. In this context in particular, personal and social skills are extremely important. Given the challenges of digitalisation, there is a growing focus on being a strong communicator, a good team player and someone who looks for solutions.

These skills can also be summed up by the word “flexibility”. They are essential for adapting to the changes in everyday working life, some of which are of a fundamental nature. These change processes place great responsibility on companies. An appropriate training culture that accounts for the varying levels of knowledge and understanding among staff can create a climate that removes any fears and encourages employees to keep on acquiring new skills. Further training comes in all shapes and sizes – from in-house workshops and seminars to digital “on-demand” offerings and even the use of external training providers. The most important thing is to set aside the necessary time and assign specific responsibilities.

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