Artificial intelligence – a saviour or a job killer?

Friedrich Hubert Esser

Dear readers,

Smart computer systems are able to offer diagnoses, guidance and translations. They can also compose music and poetry as well as paint. Will they monitor and control us completely at some point? The topic of artificial intelligence is garnering keen interest and a considerable amount of curiosity in vocational education and training. What areas of potential does AI offer for initial and continuing vocational education and training? What are its limits? And will it replace human work in the near future?

AI as a testing ground

AI is opening up new horizons for initial and continuing VET. This is affecting objectives, contents, methods, teaching/learning materials and examinations. DeepL, for example, can be used to translate resources or to formulate texts at different levels of complexity. AI also helps reduce the human workload by generating and assessing examination assignments.

It is in broad methodological use on learning platforms, where it acts as a co-worker, sparring partner or co-teacher in numerous media didactics concepts. Chatbots such as ChatGPT now allow training staff to write and correct work tasks. A “prompt” may, for example, serve as a starting point. However, users need to gain an understanding of “prompting” before they are able to use it purposefully. This requires competencies that must be specifically fostered alongside basic media skills. Such a process firstly involves skills which are entirely practical in nature. These are acquired via trial and error. How do I devise a prompt that is clear and effective? Any inhibitions in this regard will need to be addressed. Secondly, however, users of AI must also focus on getting to grips with the underlying algorithms, the vehicles via which AI models propose learning materials or learning provision. The associated areas of potential and risks must be recognised.

We have, however, not yet arrived at a point where we could leave AI in sole charge of the management of learning processes and of education and training. Human competencies are still needed. These are advantageous when dealing with AI and are also generally instrumental in the shaping and support of learning processes. The capabilities which count most of all are critical thinking, clear communication, emotional intelligence, a capacity for ethical reflection, and clear intentionality.

Enshrinement of AI in occupational profiles and in company business processes

It is clear that although artificial intelligence is an object of wide debate in VET, AI applications are also being deployed in individual sectors such as insurance. Nevertheless, changes which are being driven by AI alone are not discernible at this juncture. AI tools currently tend to be deployed for the purpose of support. Instances include tools to make mechanical proposals for the enhancement of 3D prints or of the production parameters in milling processes. But the manual and brain work of humans remains crucial, especially in the craft trades.

Despite this, the assumption must be that most companies will see a benefit within a short space of time once they look at the issue of AI seriously. The automation of time-consuming routine tasks can free employees from the burden of stereotypical or physically demanding work so that they can then be entrusted with higher value duties.
All in all, we can see that AI tools can offer productive support to vocational education and training. We therefore need to have no fear of the “job killer” scenario.


Professor Friedrich Hubert Esser
President of BIBB


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2024): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin