Workforce & Qualification - Interview
In the face of climate change, decarbonising the transport sector is a current and future challenge in Germany and Europe. Batteries play a key role in this. The demand for sustainably produced battery cells has increased enormously in recent years due to electric mobility and stationary storage applications and will continue to increase. Public investment has provided strong incentives for the development of a broad battery value chain as well as an entire battery ecosystem in Germany and Europe, which is crucial for European competitiveness, the development of technological know-how and for securing local supply. The associated exponential growth of the industry brings with it the challenge of finding sufficient and suitably qualified skilled employees.
Overcoming challenges and establishing qualification offers for students and blue-collar workers for battery cell production,
Professor Dr.-Ing. Franz Dietrich of Technische Universität Berlin explains what needs to be done to meet the largescale demand for skilled workers as well as what approaches already exist today.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Franz Dietrich is professor at the Institute of Machine Tools and Factory Management (IWF) and head of the Chair of Handling and Assembly Technology at Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin). He researches and teaches in the field of battery production technology. His work focuses on handling, assembly and disassembly, humans, digitalization as well as analytically and experimentally based technology innovations, with the key mission of rationalized production in a sustainable, humanitarian world.
IPCEI Batteries: How do you prepare students for a professional career in battery production?
Franz Dietrich: We see that a number of universities are updating their portfolio in that direction. There are a few examples where dedicated study programs around battery production or electric mobility are already offered, and we know of several universities who are planning to do so. But at the moment most universities are integrating the topic of batteries and battery production into their schedules only here and there. This is still not enough to account for the numbers that will be needed on a total level. For example, at TU Berlin we have a handful of lectures around batteries: About battery materials, their applications, and their production. We are looking at automotive and non-automotive applications. We're looking at ways to model this. We're looking at materials and we're looking into the production. Still, the portfolio only scratches the surface, and a lot more can be done in this field in the future.
But learning about battery production and batteries is not only about learning contents and skills, it's also about learning about the variety of value creation aspects that are involved, as well as the variety of job profiles. For example, in my lecture on battery production for electrified mobility, we always invite external partners, mentors from the industry to come to our lecture and share their experience from their professional careers with the students. The intention is for the students to start to looking into and reflecting on the job profiles they are studying towards and to find their way into the field of battery production and adjacent fields where they are so much required and sought after. At TU Berlin our teaching in the field of batteries and battery production is also a team effort. We have teamed up with a number of chairs that research batteries and their production. And together we share our knowledge in our lectures. We have built a research network which we call Battery Circuit Berlin, which involves these institutes and these chairs in this field. Together, we are not only looking into qualification for university students, we are also currently looking into qualification for blue collar workers to consider people who used to work in other fields such as mechanical or electrical devices, and how they can be re-qualified or qualified so that they can make their way into the fields of battery production and the supplying industries. And in this project that I'm talking about, we are working together with the Handwerkskammer (Chamber of Crafts) and locally around Berlin and Brandenburg in order to find out what kind of industry develops there are and what kind of qualifications they would need. Together with all the project partners we are working with, we are using this information to create new training programs for blue collar workers.
IPCEI Batteries: Obviously, there exist opportunities for education in the field of batteries and there are many more under development. So which skills and expertise are important?
Franz Dietrich: Basically, what differentiates battery production from previously known production chains is that the domains that are affected or contribute to it are much more interconnected than, for example, if we build mechanical or combustion engines. There is chemical engineering, there is process engineering, there is electrical engineering, there is mechanical engineering, and all of these domains are connected with the production technologies in the field of joining. And further on, all of these technologies and domains are at interplay in order to get the most of the materials functionality into the battery and to preserve it until it is placed in the final application where it should be. So the difference to previous qualification programs is that multi-domain approaches are needed. So even if specific education programs go into great depth in one specific domain, let's say mechanical engineering or electrical engineering or modeling or topics like this, a battery expert or a battery production expert will always need a good overview over the other domains. He or she will need to have knowledge and a set of skills in the other fields in order to have a common vocabulary and a common idea about the architecture of the domain or the architecture of the product or its functionality or the interconnections of the material and the process and the product. This complexity is not present in many other domains yet.
IPCEI Batteries: Besides specific knowledge in certain disciplines, is there a need for more general qualifications?
Franz Dietrich: Yes. We need systems thinking combined with specific domain knowledge in order to get to a level where we will be able to implement high throughput battery production in order to make it the most efficient and to have more flexible or more reliable battery production systems in future systems. And I am not only talking about the materials and the processes, but also about the automation of these processes and the data which is obtained in these processes. That can be used to find measures to improve these processes. Just take the current wave of AI implementations. Think about people who will now learn something about chemistry and process engineering or mechanical engineering on whatever level, let it be a shop floor worker level or an engineer level. Sooner or later they will come in contact with modeling techniques or with artificial intelligence concepts to describe the processes they are working with which make recommendations for improvements. So these people, despite being experts in their domain, need to have some kind of, AI readiness so that they can interconnect with the specialists in these domains, so that they can explain to them their process, and so that they can interpret the output from these domains. On a more general level, the idea of systems thinking is to have a broader understanding of the interconnected domains, but still have a specific domain in which one is a true expert. This is of such great importance for the future skillsets that will be needed in battery production.
IPCEI Batteries: Can you elaborate on an example where the collaboration between academia and industry contributes to an improvement in education and training for battery cell manufacturing?
Franz Dietrich: Yes, sure. We are currently part of the project KombiH, which is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. In this project, a number of education providers for non-academic contexts have teamed up together with the Handwerkskammer and the industry and Handelskammer (Chamber of Commerce) around Berlin and Brandenburg. And we as TU Berlin, we are partners from the academic side. So the fundamental idea is to listen to the companies and to the players that are now coming to Berlin and Brandenburg and to learn from them and to elaborate together with them the qualification needs that they have. They are mapped to qualification portfolios and curricula for qualification offers and we from TU Berlin, we will be more than happy to provide our insights from the world of research and from academic teaching in order to give these trainees the best experience and the best push for their career profiles.
IPCEI Batteries: What kind of challenges need to be overcome in building up such education opportunities?
Franz Dietrich: From the experience gained at the current start of the project and from building up academic teaching in this field, the main challenge is to cover the great variety of tasks that these people, these trainees, will face in their future. This also heavily depends on the actual company they work in. So to map the different tasks onto a comprehensive set of training modules is one of the really great challenges and not to lose oversight over these many tasks and this great variety.
IPCEI Batteries: How important is it to provide standardized and certified opportunities for qualification? How important is this for the recognition of such trainings, especially with respect to job titles and professions in this field?
Franz Dietrich: Standardization of education programs is always a means to make quality comparable. At the moment, a number of organizations offer certificates in the field of battery production, and there is a niche that these organizations currently fill. But at the moment they still lack comparability to established study programs or qualification programs that are integrated with a common understanding in the labor markets. I'm very much convinced that all the providers of certified or accredited study or training programs, will be asked and urged to use standardized or widely accepted certificates. This refers at first to the German scope. I think if a European standardization should be achieved, this is going to be a really large effort and from the history of academic degrees, the standardization and the interchangeability, like the Bologna process, we can extract insights about how to provide or how to approach this task in order to simplify the mobility of the workforce. That will be very, very much needed in the forthcoming years.
The interview was conducted by Linda Arnold-Triangeli and Dr. Christoph Sprung, VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH, in July 2023.