Friends of Europe

Europe needs to brace for the coming jobs revolution

A piece by the ETF's Director, published on Friends of Europe's website

Artificial intelligence is coming, and it’s going to take your job!

This seems to be the dominant narrative coming out of public discourse around the growing convergence of technologies, the exponential growth of computing power and the emergence of universal real-time connectivity.

Surely, this is not the first time that technology has been framed as a threat to jobs and lifestyles. In spite of this, from the printing press to the production lines of the industrial revolution or the growth of the digital service economy, the overall impact of technological change on jobs and quality of life has been positive for a vast majority of countries and people.

So, the question therefore is: will things be different this time? Will the scope, scale and pace of technological change lead to disruption beyond the capacity of societies to adapt? And if there are fewer jobs in the future, will this consign workers to inactivity, or could it actually liberate them to cultivate their personal interests free from the ‘nine-to-five’ constraints?

When formulating policy, it is crucial to examine all global drivers of change, beyond just technology

Policymakers need to keep their feet on the ground, and work with what they know to craft feasible solutions. They must bear in mind the limitations on the capacity of large complex systems, like education and training, to change quickly.

Over the past 25 years, the European Training Foundation (ETF) has been working on future skills needs in the wider neighbourhood of the European Union, spanning the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Balkans, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The ETF is unique in terms of its mandate, its expertise and the ways in which it gathers evidence to support policy reforms of education and training systems.

When formulating policy, it is crucial to examine all global drivers of change, beyond just technology. Global supply chains, demographic trends, migration flows, climate change, new models of employment, changing social attitudes and consumer preferences also influence the supply and demand for skills in labour markets worldwide. Moreover, technological change impacts traditional sectors, such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing, as much as it does the world of high tech.

In the end, few of today’s predictions will stand the test of time. We cannot predict the precise effect of global changes on the skills needs of a country’s economy in 10, 15, 20 years’ time. There is no way of ensuring that a cohort of children starting school today will have the exact right mix of skills when they leave education 12-15 years hence. What we do know is that the pace of change will continue, the level of skills required in all occupations will rise, digital technology will become ubiquitous, and as they move through their lives, people will have to transition between occupations, between work and learning, between different modalities of work and potentially between work and unemployment or inactivity.

The top priority for the decade to come should be to support integrated, inclusive, quality lifelong learning systems

The success of humanity lies in our ingenuity and adaptability. In the face of uncertainty and unpredictability, policymakers need to reinforce these positive qualities. Education and training systems need to increase focus on supporting individuals in making the best choices for their development and for the transitions they will encounter in their lives. To achieve this, education policies need to be flexible to adapt to the changing needs of people at different stages of their lives, and to integrate formal learning with skills people acquire through life and work.

This is the value of exchanging experiences and best practices from one another across Europe and beyond. As a centre of expertise in the modernisation of education, training and employment systems, the ETF draws on different approaches and practices from the European Union, its partners and internationally to support countries in developing homegrown solutions to the challenges of the future.

Policymakers cannot forget that people are at the heart of change. The best policies will endow people with the tools of change and empower them to shape their futures.

The top priority for the decade to come should be to support integrated, inclusive, quality lifelong learning systems to guarantee people the best possible start in life. Such policies will need to create an environment conducive to further learning, upskilling and reskilling.

Lifelong learning is a shared vision, but the challenge – across Europe and beyond – will be the question of implementation. Now is the time to discover how to harness the potential of technology to empower individuals, schools and communities to make the best choices for their future.

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