What humans can do better than machines

Before the upcoming  'Skills for the Future' events, we speak with Alberto Cavalli, who will be opening the #Skills4Future UnConference, next Tuesday 20th November in Turin, Italy. Mr Cavalli is Executive Co-director and General-Director of the Cologni Foundation for the Metiers d'Art, a Geneva-based organisation dedicated to promoting the skills of master craftsmen and women in an age where automation is stripping away the human touch.

What skills do the artisans of the 21st century need?

They need to learn how to be real 'interpreters' - interpretation is one of the key elements that, for us, distinguish real master craftspeople. The difference between an executor and an interpreter is obvious if you think about music: both a beginner and a maestro can play the same score, but what you hear are two very different things. The same is true for artisans: only great Masters have the culture, wisdom and competence to interpret the project of a designer, for instance, and transform it into a beautiful object. Interpreting means understanding: fundamental to turning talent into a profession.

What can we learn from past Masters?

If we consider the magnificent objects crafted in the past, we can understand how the artisans were in dialogue with their commissioners or clients. There was mutual understanding. Artisans were pioneers, always trying to invent something new or bring a technique to perfection to fulfil their own wishes, but also to surprise their clients. This is a very human and precious heritage that we have to learn and treasure: to listen, to understand, to respect, to invest in something awesome that will break new ground.

In a world of swiftly changing demands and rapid obsolescence, how can 'traditional' crafts survive?

The real enemy of crafts is not technology. Technology is an instrument. It can help artisans communicate in a more efficient way. The real threat is represented by ignorance. This is why we have to work on the cultural aspect of artisanship. There will always be, the desire for something that will last, something that human hands can do better than any machine.
Fine craftsmanship certainly represents a competitive advantage for many economies: master craftsmen are rare and precious. We have to invest in skills that automation cannot substitute, and crafts are a perfect representation of these skills. We have to make sure that artisans are always visible, understood, represented.

What role can training providers and policymakers play in supporting traditional crafts?

I think we are already witnessing a visible change in the perspective: nowadays, dexterity and talent are regarded as something precious and admirable, and we have to keep on showing young generations how fulfilling it can be to become an artisan, and to be happy with what you can do with your hands. Something that people will admire, desire, buy. Something unique.

What is your foundation's vision?

Artisanal skills are a precious heritage that has to be safeguarded and bridged into the future; fine craftsmanship can represent a relevant, culturally conscious competitive advantage for many economies.

Tell us about your new book.

In "The Master's Touch: Essential Elements of Artisanal Excellence" we propose a way to decode and understand artisanal excellence, to build common ground and shared language around these points. Craft and understanding each other is the first step to move forward, to a more human future.


The European Training Foundation (ETF), the EU Agency in charge of supporting countries in the EU neighbourhood to undertake reforms in education, training and labour policies, is organising the ‘Skills for the Future: Managing transition’ conference. The event will be held in Turin, Italy, on the 21-22 November 2018. Participants from more than 50 countries – entrepreneurs, training providers, policy makers, innovators – will be attending with the aim of exploring how transition countries can respond to global trends shaping the labour market of tomorrow from a skills perspective. The conference will be launched by a spin-off event, on 20th November: an UnConference where change-makers will set the agenda to explore solutions in place to address a changing job market. More:

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