How do we utilise and develop existing valuable competences in infrastructure maintenance while simultaneously attracting young people to the sector? The answer may lie in micro-learning and collaboration. The Mistra InfraMaint research programme is focused on the development of professional lifelong learning, among other things through the use of digital tools.
Sustainable maintenance administration demands good decision-making tools; generally speaking, better than those we have at our disposal today. This places high demands on both the systems and the people working in the field, many of whom may need to acquire new skills. Unfortunately, the widespread skills shortage in the industry poses a problem that is not about to disappear.
“Given general demographic developments, young people’s study choices, etc. it is readily apparent that the sector will face challenges in recruiting staff with the necessary skills. The current workforce has a relatively high average age and we can expect many to retire in the not too distant future,” says RISE senior project manager Kristina Björn, who specialises in the strategic development of lifelong learning.
Increasing maintenance requirements
In parallel with the widening skills gap, the maintenance requirements of critical social infrastructure is also increasing as the existing installations age. The aim of investment in skills development is to reverse this trend and contribute to halving the skills gap in the maintenance sector. The project roadmap highlights a number of methods of developing skills and two of these have now been chosen as focus areas: micro-learning and collaborative projects.
“Micro-learning is essentially about making interesting and relevant knowledge available in small portions that can be accessed whenever and wherever people have the time and energy, something that is best achieved digitally,” explains Kristina Björn.
The programme’s website will be the platform for micro-learning, with teaching material gradually built up in the form of YouTube videos, podcasts and methodological support – with the aim of reaching as many people as possible.
It is a challenge to recruit qualified personnel who are interested in working with maintenance issues
Collaborative projects for in-depth learning
The second method chosen is collaborative projects. This demands a significantly larger investment on the part of participating organisations than micro-learning, with existing personnel taking part in courses and seminars and being supervised in their application of the knowledge over a 12 to18-month period; as competence coordinator and assisting programme director Gunn-Mari Löfdahl explains:
“In this way, we encourage in-depth learning that provides direct results for the organisation.”
Professional skills are a perishable commodity
These two methods are being applied in part to establish a sharing culture in which those in possession of valuable expertise have access to a platform and the tools to disseminate their knowledge. It is also intended to attract new competences to cover the sector’s future needs. Gunn-Mari describes professional skills as a perishable commodity that must be constantly updated to keep pace with developments. She also underlines the need to bring new competences to bear.
“It is a challenge to recruit qualified personnel who are interested in working with maintenance issues. Students are all too rarely interested in study programmes aimed at the maintenance of road and water infrastructure. The IT sector is seen as more ‘exciting’.”
The hope is that investment in skills development will bring about a change of course.
“The programme as a whole is working to show young people how interesting and developmental the field of infrastructure maintenance actually is and that it offers a real opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable and accessible society,” concludes Gunn-Mari Löfdahl.