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Pictures of the Future



Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation


Education: Fuel for Innovation

With approximately 10,000 trainees and work-study program participants at about 40 locations, Siemens is one of the largest industrial providers of training in Germany.

Innovation in companies requires more than just talent and a corporate culture that supports employees. Above all, as the annually published Global Innovation Index demonstrates, it depends on the ability and commitment of countries to invest in education.

The number of patents registered, product and production process sustainability, the share of knowledge workers in a country — these are just three of a total of 82 criteria utilized by the publishers of the Global Innovation Index 2016 (GII) to determine the innovative strength of individual nations. The GII is published annually by Cornell University, INSEAD Business School, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The index is an internationally recognized performance indicator for those who want an overview of the degrees of innovation within the global community. In 2014, the index also focused especially on the “human factor in innovation.” Its conclusion: Where there is no human capital, there is virtually no progress.

That makes sense, since a country can only be as innovative as its companies. These, in turn, can only be creative and inventive if they invest extensively in research and development, work closely with universities, establish strategic partnerships, and continually update their portfolios of patented products and processes. However, none of this can happen if the employees at such companies are not innovative themselves — and in order to be innovative, employees must be educated.

One Siemens training program offers certification for electronics technicians and mechatronics specialists.

Siemens is aware of all this as well, so partnerships and the incorporation of startups are already integral components of the company’s innovation process. Siemens is also well aware of the importance of education and training. With its approximately 10,000 trainees and work-study program participants at universities at about 40 locations, it is one of the largest industrial providers of training in Germany. One training project — “European@Siemens” — offers young people from all over Europe the opportunity to acquire German IHK (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) certification as an electronics technician or mechatronics specialist at Siemens in Berlin. Siemens has also implemented other initiatives, such as the Siemens Graduate Program (SGP) for college graduates. In addition, some 900,000 men and women worldwide take part in the company’s Group-wide Global Learning Campus training program each year. The Campus has branches in 30 countries and offers training in a wide range of professions at all levels. All in all, Siemens invested around half a billion USD in its training and continued education programs in the 2015 business year..

Students at the Colegio Republica de Boliviâ in Calama, Chile develop a project on renewable energy.

Innovation in the Global Community

Along with technology and capital, education is the fuel that powers innovation — the GII study leaves no doubt about that. Thus it’s also important for companies to provide lifelong learning for their employees wherever possible. The editors of the GII study —economists Soumitra Dutta from Cornell University, Bruno Lanvin from Insead, and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent from WIPO — and their authors utilized 82 criteria to gauge innovation. Examples of such criteria include creative products and services, patent registrations, ecological sustainability, and the percentage of knowledge workers in a given country.

The connection between educational opportunities and innovation in a country is clear. In general, the more developed a country is, as measured in terms of infrastructure or annual per capita income (from approximately USD 110,000 in Luxembourg to roughly USD 250 in Malawi), the higher will be the percentage of college graduates, students, and researchers among its population. Moreover, the higher the percentage of educated people, the greater will be the country’s innovation potential.

International Appeal: Driving Innovation

In view of these figures, it is not surprising that North America and Europe are right among the top of the GII Index. According to the US-National Science Board (NSB), these two regions account for the two of the three highest percentages of global investment in research and development(29 percent and approximately 22 percent, respectively). China’s share has reached to the same level as Europe according to the NSB, but North America and Europe retain by far the largest percentages of researchers in their populations (roughly 4,000 per one million residents). By comparison, the global average, as in China, is around 1,000 researchers per one million residents. 

The UC Berkeley campus. Approximately 40 percent of all people with doctorates in the U.S. were born outside the country, with most coming from China and India.

These regions are also the only places where the number of foreign students is higher than the number of students who leave to study abroad. This shows that success in innovation is also a result of the appeal a country or region has in other parts of the world. A study by the NSB in the U.S. found, for example, that in 2013 27 percent of all employees working in the fields of engineering and the natural sciences (outside of universities) were not born in the U.S. Even more interesting is the fact that the percentage of foreign employees increases in line with the level of qualification required for a particular job. For example, over 40 percent of all employees with a doctorate in the U.S. were born outside the country, with most of them coming from China and India. However, most of these people completed a graduate program in the U.S.

Africa: Surprisingly Innovative

As suggested above, the less developed a country is, the lower will be the percentage of its population with a university education. Such countries therefore rely on technology transfer much more than on their own research and development work. This is particularly the case in southern and western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which are at the bottom of the GII Index. Nevertheless, one cannot postulate simple causal relationships. For example, do poorly qualified employees cause a low level of development, or is it the other way around? Apparently, no conclusive answers can be derived from the existing data.

In other words, the fact that the 25 most innovative countries (according to the GII Index) are also among the richest nations in the world doesn’t mean that other countries will never be able to catch up. Education plays a key role for them as well. For example, China has increased its investment in R&D from 0,9 percent of its gross domestic product in 2000 to 2 percent in 2014. The country is also continually improving its employee training programs and measures. Despite its numerous IT centers, India still lags behind in this area, as most research work in the country is conducted at companies and private institutes, and very little is carried out at universities. Sub-Saharan Africa is actually further along in terms of innovation than one might expect from its poor GII rankings. For example, the industries of some countries — such as Burkina Faso, Benin, or Rwanda — are a lot more innovative than these nations’ gross domestic products would indicate.

In other words, even in poor countries, education can help lay the foundation for technical development and for innovation over the long term. International companies are providing assistance here. For example, Siemens established a Power Academy at the end of 2010 in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria. The academy offers career training programs in the energy sector to young Nigerians who work either for Siemens or one of its customers. Trainees receive valuable instruction regarding power generation, grid monitoring, and innovations such as smart grids. They will increase the percentage of knowledge workers in Nigeria and thus improve the country’s performance with regard to the criteria used by the Global Innovation Index. Some of them may even go on to make their respective countries more innovative.

Hubertus Breuer
Picture credits: from top: 4. picture mauritius images/Alamy