Poland / Interview Third path to success

Author / Editor: Agata Świderska / Susanne Hertenberger

Poland – According to the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, nearly 3/4 of entrepreneurs have difficulties finding well-qualified employees. The solution may be to build an educational system that combines theoretical and practical knowledge.

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In the educational model focused on practice, theory lays the grounds for developing specific skills.
In the educational model focused on practice, theory lays the grounds for developing specific skills.
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The issue has two sides: Polish schools are still targeted at theoretical education, while entrepreneurs are still not convinced about co-operating with educational institutions. Whereas only effective co-operation aimed at developing the ‘education through practice’ model can permanently change this situation, providing benefits to all three sides: students, schools and entrepreneurs.

This model of co-operation is being introduced into Polish reality by Manfred Wanzke – owner of the German company Wanzke Umformtechnologie GmbH. In December 2015, he signed the co-operation agreement with the Opole University of Technology regarding mutual scientific and research endeavors, as well as, organising practical trainings and internships for students and graduates of the university.

We had an opportunity to talk to professor Manfred Wanzke about the idea behind this co-operation and the differences in specialists’ training in Poland and Germany, at the ceremony in which he was granted the title of honorary professor of the Opole University of Technology.

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We meet in exceptional circumstances: last December, you signed a co-operation agreement with the Opole University of Technology, and today you are celebrating the title of Honorary Professor that is being given to you. Why did a German entrepreneur decide to co-operate with a Polish university?

Manfred Wanzke: Even though I moved to Germany after the war, my roots are here – in Silesia. I have always felt a strong connection with this region. However, I did not think that I would be able to play an active part in its development. I came up with this concept rather unexpectedly, following my conversations with Sabine Haake, the German Consul in Opole, who convinced me that considering the intensive development of science and industry in Opolian Silesia, it is the best time to initiate such a co-operation. I also talked to the Vice Chancellor of the Opole University of Technology, Marek Tukiendorf, who outlined its scope. It was the exchange of views on the opportunities for development of industrial education in the region, followed by my visits at nearby production facilities, that became the basis for the formulation of a joint concept of co-operation between Wanzke Umformtechnologie GmbH and the University in Opole.

What will this co-operation encompass?

We want to create a Polish and German platform for the exchange of knowledge on plastic forming – a discipline in which there is still a shortage of appropriate educational materials – both here in Silesia and in other Polish regions. When I talked to the presidents of local companies, they complained about the lack of experts in this field. We intend to provide them with such experts. What’s more, we want to educate them well enough and universally enough so that they have a chance to establish themselves not only on the local, but also on the Polish and European markets.

It is hard to believe that these days there are still disciplines that experience shortage of specialised staff. What makes plastic forming such a difficult discipline?

Unlike drilling, turning and milling, plastic forming is difficult to measure. While it is possible to calculate process parameters, production times and unit costs of finished products with high precision, up to two decimal places, for the former disciplines, in the case of plastic forming, success basically depends on specialist knowledge and experience, which one cannot learn from books.

How can one train such experts? Is there a tried and tested educational programme which guarantees success in this field?

We should start by realising that there are two ways of obtaining knowledge: the trial and error approach and the path of school education. But both have substantial faults: the first is lengthy and laborious, while the second provides one with standard knowledge with no practical references. However, as my mentors used to say, there is also a third path: independent study or, as Americans say, “learning by doing”. In this model, theoretical knowledge is used to initially define what is possible, impossible or not yet possible, while knowledge and experiments are used to transform the “not yet possible” into “possible”. In this manner, we establish a symbiosis between theory and practice which drives permanent development: it lays the grounds for research and development activity targeted at enriching the theoretical basis.

Is this how specialists are trained in Germany?

German pupils and students have been learning in a dual system for a long time – under this system, classes are divided equally between the theoretical part – taught in classrooms, and the practical part, taught at production plants.

How does the Polish education system compare to the German one? How much do we still have to catch up here in Poland?

The differences between those two systems are still noticeable, but the German educational system is still facing many problems, as a result of which there is more and more talk of the need to reform it. Even though it is more targeted at practical skills, it gravitates towards theory too. There are also serious concerns about the unwillingness of young people to train in purely technical professions. In consequence, a gap is created in the market, caused by the ageing of experienced, specialised professionals, combined with the shortage of well-qualified potential successors. To put it briefly: both these countries have their issues they need to face. For Poland, the first step towards solving them is to understand that the most effective way of acquiring knowledge is learning through practice. Only such knowledge, once obtained, gives one the potential he can use for the rest of his life, creating the basis for professional success in the future.

Thank you for the interview.

This interview appeared in www.maschinenmarkt.international.

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