The future of work

Strategic technologies and the development of professional skills (STEPS)

© Fraunhofer IAO, Illustration: Thomas Kuhlenbeck

What technologies will we use in the future? And what will that mean for our work? In their search for a future-oriented strategy, the energy provider Bayernwerk has turned to Fraunhofer IAO. With this collaboration, they aimed to create a road map for the digital future of the company and launch an initiative to establish and integrate an expertise management system in the long term.

The challenge

It is no exaggeration to say that life in many parts of Bavaria would be less than comfortable if were not for Bayernwerk Netz GmbH: With a 156,000 kilometer electrical grid, a 6000 kilometer gas network and a 34,000 kilometer street lighting network, Bayernwerk is the largest operator of distribution networks in the region. The company, which is headquartered in Regensburg, possesses an infrastructure that supplies energy to around seven million people.

The company faces a number of challenges as a network operator, such the digital transformation, for one thing. In coming years, new technologies will radically change the way that work is done in the company. The energy transition is another factor driving the transformation: 70 percent of the electrical energy distributed by Bayernwerk already comes from renewable sources. With the advance of green electricity, the proportion of decentrally generated energy will continue to grow. This is a development that calls for intelligent control solutions. On top of that, there is the prospect of demographic change: By 2030, around one third of the approximately 2700 people employed by Bayernwerk will enter retirement. This gives rise to the question: How must future skilled workers be trained – and the training of existing skilled workers be advanced – so that the company is in a good position to face the future?


The task

Of course, digital technologies have long been a part of everyday operations in the company. Service technicians, for example, document maintenance work using apps on tablets. Working without software would also be unthinkable in the other departments. "As far as digital innovations are concerned, we already have many small-scale solutions," says Stephan Müller, an advisor on HR strategy and key issues at Bayernwerk. “What we lacked, on the other hand, was an integrated view of the technologies and a structured way to work out what changes in expertise will be rendered necessary by digital work processes and new strategic tasks.”

The potential for change is enormous: In the future, VR technology could help with planning and further training. Augmented reality or drones could support employees during maintenance work. Sensors could also be increasingly used, as they have the potential to detect incipient problems before they can cause damage. But what does the company really need? And how will this technology change work on a day-to-day basis?

In collaboration with Fraunhofer IAO, Bayernwerk has been looking for the answers to these questions since the beginning of 2019 as part of “STEPS,” a project on strategic technologies and the development of professional skills. This task requires a universal overview of new technologies, unsolved problems, existing expertise and potential further training programs. “Digital transformation is only possible with employees’ support,” says Bernd Dworschak, Team Leader for Competence Management at Fraunhofer IAO.

The solution

In looking for a future strategy for Bayernwerk, Bernd Dworschak and his team are undertaking a number of steps: First, they determine which of the technologies currently available on the global market could become important for the company in the future. In collaboration with Bayernwerk, they then identify the technologies that are suitable for the company.

Finally, they turn their attention to the consequences the changes will have for employees at the company. “New technologies do not just require new formal skills. They also change the role profiles at the company,” says Alexander Karapidis of Fraunhofer IAO, who heads up the project alongside Bernd Dworschak. He goes on to add that in areas where technical expertise was previously in highest demand, once machines take on a portion of the work, skills such as communication and creativity could become highly sought after.

While on the hunt for the workforce of the future, the team led by Dworschak and Karapidis is also developing further training options for employees. “This isn’t a question of traditional classroom training,” says Karapidis. Rather, the goal is to gradually introduce new technologies to the workforce. “The most effective way for employees to learn is by carrying out new tasks,” says Dworschak. Stephan Müller of Bayernwerk is satisfied with the initial results: “With regards to digital technology, we now have a good overview of the possible direction of development – now we need to work on developing our employees’ expertise.”

The digital transformation will fundamentally change the way we work.

Stephan Müller, Bayernwerk Netz GmbH, advisor on HR strategy and key issues

“We face a number of challenges as energy providers. The digital transformation will fundamentally change the way we work, the energy transition calls for new control solutions in grid operation and demographic change will ensure high employee turnover within the next ten years. To meet these challenges, we have to start asking ourselves the questions of tomorrow, today: What technologies do we want to use in the future? How do these technologies change the way we work in the company? What expertise must our employees have? And how can we develop this expertise? Fraunhofer IAO is working with us to develop a road map that is optimally tailored to our needs.”