Collaborating on skills’ development for a better tomorrow
Imagining various scenarios, Stavroula Demetriades, Senior Research Manager at Eurofound, sketched out a possible future in which recession and the energy crisis dominates, and another ‘asymmetric vision’, in which only some have access to technology. Her third scenario, however, was “a more equitable world of work, in which we have survived the crisis and emerged more resilient.”
The European Training Foundation (ETF) provided the opportunity to explore these varying perspectives at its event “Predicting the Unpredictable: skills anticipation for a better future”, which was live-streamed on Monday from the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italy.
“If we take a negative approach we will disengage and not take action,” emphasised Maunela Prina, Head of the ETF’s Skills Identification and Development Unit, in her keynote speech. “That’s why we must choose the good vibes; the positive way forward.”
New skills network
This positive approach was given flesh at the start of the conference by Xavier Matheu, the ETF’s ad interim Director, when he talked about the new skills lab for labour market research launched in October 2021. “We don’t want to be the best agency in the world, we want to work with everybody,” he explained. “Because we know the greatest impact happens in countries where institutions collaborate.”
‘Is it possible to anticipate the future?’ Matheu continued. The pandemic and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine are examples of events that are difficult to predict, and have greatly impacted the global economy; however, countries can take action. Specifically, “empirical studies have provided indications as to future trends, by highlighting for example the importance of lifelong learning, new competence requirements and ‘T-shaped skill profiles’ that require deep knowledge in multiple areas.”
What benefits will the new skills network bring? Francesca Rosso, a labour market specialist at the ETF, explained that it will generate fresh ideas, provide access to information, and enable collaborative work. “If you surround yourself with people with similar ambitions, you can anticipate emerging trends and move forward faster as a group,” she explained.
The ETF’s 2027 strategy includes innovative skills’ research, work on joint publications and events in different countries. “This initiative can inspire our work; it is exciting that everything is open to us, “ she said.
Shaping the future
Introducing the panel presentations, Manuela Prina highlighted a number of key areas where demand is increasing, including in soft skills; managerial and business competencies; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and the world of virtual reality. “Nobody now talks about the need for social scientists!,” she joked.
Stavroula Demetriades kicked off the panel discussion by explaining that Eurofound has been researching the future of tele- and hybrid work. The results of a recent survey, based on interviews with workers about their conditions, showed that employees increasingly want to work from home. People’s mindsets are important in this context, because managers may wonder about home-based productivity levels, while workers might prioritise a better work/life balance. One possible way out of this dichotomy could be co-working hubs, which make it unnecessary for workers to commute to work. “Governments and businesses might want to invest in this model,” she suggested.
Turning to the field of education, Tamar Kitiashvili, Director of the Georgia Skills Agency, explained that the country had learned a number of lessons from the pandemic. Firstly, in terms of pedagogy, the curriculum needed to be changed to incorporate sustainability issues and adapt to new time frames; and teachers required new skills, for example, “to become more creative in keeping students’ attention.” This in turn demanded a more decentralised management structure in order to give more autonomy to schools. Government health and employment departments needed to work more closely with the private sector to create more work-based placements. Additionally, “a skills agency was created at the start of this year to integrate education with the local economy and regional employment,” she said. “We want to be as creative as possible in addressing our skills gap.”
Regarding higher education, Michele Filippo Fontefrancesco, Professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, explained that “food shortages have taken the sector by surprise”. At his university, the response has been to embed the idea of sustainability in the curriculum; adopt new agricultural techniques and establish a new master’s in heritage conservation to document the changes taking place, such as the Slow food initiative [a cultural movement that originated in Italy to prioritise locally grown, nourishing food].
The rapid change that took place in all economic sectors as a result of the pandemic emphasised the need for up-to-date labour market information. Figures on the unemployment rate and government subsidies skewed data, leaving experts to turn to current data sources, which lacked reliability, or wait for more detailed reports. “As a labour market researcher I needed a broad portfolio comprising quick, but rougher results, combined with more robust longer-term results,” concluded Claudia Plaimauer, Project Manager & Researcher at 3s Management Consulting Ltd, Austria. “In this regard, the pandemic highlighted the need for more serious sources of information.”