Universities are not adequately preparing students for the demands of today’s industry, according to the VDMA, the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association.

The organisation has published a series of dossiers in the run-up to the leading trade show for industrial technology, Hanover Messe, urging that engineering education and training must be adapted to keep pace with technological change.

Industry 4.0 refers to the current trend of incorporating a greater level of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. Machines, devices, sensors, and people involved in production processes are increasingly connected, as manufacturing is increasingly reliant on machine learning and smart technologies.

Higher education institutions have been somewhat slow to change their curriculum and teaching methods, meaning students are at risk of falling behind the pace of technological change.

This means that there is a gap between what is taught at university, or in other vocational training, and the technological skills employers require from workers.

Industry 4.0 education: Why a rethink is needed

Industry 4.0 will lead to an even greater need for well-trained skilled workers in the future, particularly in mechanical and plant engineering, meaning the training of engineers at universities must be rethought.

This means that a revision of university curriculums is urgently needed so that as well as traditional engineering skills, students will be equipped with in computer science, data science and data security – skills that will be indispensable in the future.

The VDMA’s studies recommend introducing all students enrolled in engineering degrees in the to a core curriculum that includes all engineering disciplines. This will introduce students to all core subjects in engineering such as mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science. It also recommends familiarising students with other elements of industry 4.0 such as additive manufacturing, IT security or cyber-physical systems.

The organisation highlighted that a “silo mentality”, in which departments are reluctant to share information or knowledge, that exists at some universities is also preventing the skills needed for industry 4.0 preparedness.

Instead, interdisciplinarity in teaching between computing, data science and engineering should be promoted.