to learn together

The world is changing rapidly, and “old school” concepts of learning may no longer be in line with the times. This is why Volkswagen AG is taking new and innovative approaches to train electronics technicians. Edgar Frey, Head of professional training in electrical engineering tells us about the Third Place concept, and how Volkswagen is using it to prepare young people for the future.  

Edgar Frey

“Trust young people to do more ...”

Edgar Frey, Head of professional training in electrical engineering, Volkswagen AG

Why did you change the way you handle professional training at your company?

When we began thinking about what modern and motivating training could look like in the future, our team considered different aspects. I started from my own experiences training at Volkswagen. Personally, I have found that the ways we teach and learn have changed little over the last 20 years. Then I looked at our environment, where so much is changing – not only in terms of technology, but also the cultures of interaction and collaboration at work. We see that trainees tend to be learning more head-on in school – less from a place of personal motivation or personal interest in gaining knowledge and skills. I doubt that we can manage the economic and social challenges around us with the educational concepts we have used in the past, due to the enormous changes in the working world.

We quickly realized that simply updating our professional training was not good enough. We needed a new educational concept. We created the space for that with Third Place. The term comes from sociology, and is used for common spaces that are not work areas, nor private areas either. In these places, we can develop in a collaborative way, as part of a community of learners and learning guides.


What skills do you teach trainees?

We divided the skills into four areas, based on the UNESCO educational approach. First: Learn to gain knowledge. We tell our trainees that we are giving them the key. You can learn anything you want during your lifetime, no matter what it is. Second: Learn to act responsibly: Each individual can influence certain developments by their behavior. Being aware of this and acting accordingly is an important skill. Third: Learn to live together. We take a cooperative approach, so that trainees can see every day that we can do more when we work as a group, as a team than we can as individuals. And fourth: Learn to be. This is one of the almost philosophical fundamentals for the specialists of the future: To know why you are doing something.  


What does this mean for training in practice?

The goal, and slogan behind our training program is: Learn to make a positive change, and to actively shape the world around you. We start in small spheres of activity, and explain that you need to question yourself; learn to change the world around you in a responsible way. This, then, will affect ever larger spheres – your colleagues, the Volkswagen corporation, and your private lives.

We quickly decided, based on all our considerations, that head-on instruction was not going to work for the Third Place concept. During their first year, trainees are working with us at the training center. They learn in an agile way, meaning they design their own learning projects, taking on a high level of responsibility, and complete tasks together in small groups. The training path includes different formats, from classic workshops to long-term projects with small challenges, which are competitions and milestones. In addition to the laboratories, there are open areas where trainees work on their projects.

Of course, we also provide the necessary technical modules. Individual, future-oriented, and creative modules, however, lay the foundation so that they can understand technical content more easily on their own. In Design Thinking workshops, for instance, they learn how to solve problems in creative ways.  


How are you preparing trainers for the new concept?

We have developed a nine month learning path to enable our learning guides to implement this concept and act as role models. They also learn via a wide range of formats, both in-person and online. After the end of the nine months, they can share their experiences on a discussion platform and learn from one another.

We launched the Third Place concept last year with 36 trainees, and are now expanding it to 60 trainees. In this way, we are proceeding step by step, seeing how things work, and learning along the way. Next year we will be converting all electrical professions to the Third Place concept.


What advice would you give to small companies who want to change their training concept?

The first piece of advice I would give is: Trust young people to do more. Give them responsibility and establish an open culture of feedback and cooperation among equals. The second is: Start giving your trainers more power. Ultimately, they and school teachers are the ones who can have the biggest impact on a day-by-day basis. Making agile learning accessible to trainees is another important step. For example, to say each day: What are we planning today, what do you want to learn, what do you want to work on? For example, we always include a module in the afternoon called “Today I learned.” Each person says what they learned that day. This is very simple, but has a big impact in making them aware of their own learning progress.