In December 2012 I started a series of blogs for the Learning Layers (LL) project with the question “What can we learned during on-site-visits“. In the first article I summarised my first impressions from a field visit of the ITB team to the work site of our partner organisation Agentur für Nachhaltiges Bauen. This visit (and the interviews we recorded) gave us a much richer picture of the special area ‘ecological construction work’ and of the innovations that our partners are pushing ahead in this field.
Now, in January 2013, the ITB team has started its work for LL with further field visits (including audio/video recorded interviews) to the sites of our partners in the North-German construction cluster. Yesterday I and my colleague Werner Müller visited the training centre BauABC Rostrup at Bad Zwischenahn (near Bremen). During our visit we had a quick look at some of the worksites and training workshops and carried out five interviews with seven counterparts.
It is worthwhile to emphasise that Bau ABC Rostrup is not whatever training centre in the construction sector in Germany. It has been launched by the central organisation of the construction industries and employers (Bauindustrieverband) of the federal states Bremen and Niedersachsen and it provides training services across North Germany. In some areas (see below) it serves as a nation-wide centre of expertise. In the initial vocational training serves primarily as an inter-enterprise training interface (überbetriebliche Ausbildungsstätte) that caters for such training blocks that cannot be provided by individual companies. In the continuing vocational training it is in charge of continuing professional development of skilled workers and of training for master craftsmen (Meister) and other specialists in the trade. Due to these training functions Bau ABC has in addition to its training rooms or workshops huge outdoor worksites on which different machines, equipments and construction techniques are piloted for training and development purposes. Moreover, the centre is all the time running real construction sites to convert old army warehouses into modern training facilities (designed by Bau ABC staff and built by their trainees).
Without going into details of the interviews and the points that were made, it is worthwhile to raise some points that help the other LL partners to consider, how they can best support the work of application partners – such as Bau ABC. In this context I would like to draw attention to the following points:
1) Who are our counterparts and what is their role in the construction sector? Firstly, we had a chance to talk with two senior Master Craftsmen (Meister) in the borehole building (Brunnenbauer). They were in charge of a whole range training activities – including initial vocational training and the trainings for advanced specialist (e.g. the training for new Meister). They were also involved in producing new learning materials and in examination boards. Then, we had a chance to discuss with two apprentices in the same trade. One of them took his apprentice training as a part of his medium-term contract for the German arm. The other one had taken this training after having had firstly a training in other trade (electrician). Finally, we had discussions with three younger master Craftsmen (Meister) who were in charge of initial vocational training for neighbouring occupational areas (bricklayers, carpenters, road-builders).
2) What kinds of occupational areas are covered by Bau ABC and how can they be linked to the LL project? A major occupational area for Bau ABC is that of borehole builders (Brunnenbauer) and groundwork constructors (Spezialtiefbauer). This trade is characterised by costly machinery and equipment and by high risks regarding the treatment of different geological layers and ground water sources. (Work in this trade has been documented by the German army with the Youtube video Wasser für Marmal.) In Germany there are not many training providers for this trade and among them Bau ABC is considered as a national centre of expertise. In the immdediate vicinity there are training facilities and work sites for the neighbouring trades, such as road-builders (Strassenbauer), bricklayers (Maurer) and carpenters (Zimmerer), who also need to have the know-how on laying the foundation of the buildings and for underground construction work.
3) What can be said about the penetration of ICT and Web technologies to different areas of construction work? In this context it is worthwhile to make a distinction between the borehole builders (Brunnenbauer) and the more traditional crafts and trades. For the borehole builders the industries that produce their machines and are already intensively involved in the development of ICT equipment and software. Therefore, the exhibitions of this trade are also characterised by the presence of web services and applications. In this respect the more traditional trades have adopted the use of smartphones and tablet PCs at a later date. Altogether, all of the said areas are making new experiences with the usability of ICT- and Web-based tools, apps and services.
4) What can be said of the readiness of our counterparts to work with ICT, Web technologies and social media? In general our counterparts were positive about testing and trying out new solutions (“Was man nutzen kann, soll auch benutzt werden.“) However, depending on their positions, training responsibilities and occupational areas the counterparts raised different issues. For some areas work the problems at worksite opened more opportunities for self-directed search for solutions (and on-site learning) whilst for other areas such problems need to be communicated further to external persons with specific responsibilities. This may reduce the range of skilled workers’ involvement in finding solutions. Yet, there were issues about taking note of different problem cases for the continuing training of specialists and of Master Craftsmen (Meister) – who complete their training programmes with practical examinations on real worksites.
Altogether, the visit and the interview sessions can be seen as preliminary discussions that helped our counterparts to present their first situation assessment on problem-based learning opportunities in their trade and on the role of ICT- and web-based tools in making themselves aware of such learning. In this respect our counterparts are looking forward to further encounters with the Learning Layers project (e.g. the forthcoming Application Partner Days).
To be continued …
Acknowledgements. This work is supported by the European Commission under the FP7 project LAYERS (no. 318209), http://www.learning-layers.eu.