Skills are becoming a central focus of the current discussion on the future of education, with a regrettably limited concentration on up-skilling and re-skilling to anticipate short-term employment needs. Over the last few years the European Commission has presented several initiatives that focus on skills i.e. Agenda for New Skills and jobs, EU Skills Panorama, or and has actively promoted entrepreneurial skills in order to contribute to employability and support new business creation. Also this year we can anticipate the presentation of the New Skills Agenda for Europe – an initiative promoting skills development, including the mutual recognition of qualifications, supporting vocational training and higher education and reaping the full potential of digital jobs. However, policy makers also need to take action to deal with the potential risks of the digital gap, and help people overcome them. The world we are living in is changing faster than the one of the previous generation.
In the last 20 years alone we have seen the profound impact of new technologies on the world of work, and the transformation of the employment landscape. For most of today’s students, by the time they finish school education, the jobs they were preparing for won’t exist anymore (despite following the trends in professions that are currently in demand) or will require a different set of skills and competences. This is the reality in a rapidly evolving situation. Anticipation of future skills needs is at the same time crucial and challenging, as was voiced during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.
The “Future of jobs” report presents the top 10 skills needed for 2020, in comparison with the 2015 forecast. The top three are: complex problem solving, critical thinking (moving from 4th place in 2015), and creativity (moving from 10th place in 2015). They are followed by other soft and transversal skills such as working with others, emotional intelligence or service orientation. But crucially none of these desired core skills are given high priority in current skills policies that still focus on occupational training. This is a short-sighted approach.
SOLIDAR Foundation together with its members advocates for putting a stronger emphasis on investment in the development of transversal skills that will give people the ability to transform and adjust to changing societies and work environments. Learning to learn should become one of the core competences of each student. We need to rethink our educational systems to re-orientate them on the development of competences, and incentivise the lifelong learning approach.
What can be seen now as a Fourth Industrial Revolution that changes the business models and employment market could become an incentive for education providers, social partners, and governments to look at how education and training prepares people to face transformations. Do we provide opportunities to develop skills and competences outside the formal educational settings? Do we make them accessible for everyone, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups? Do we promote lifelong learning? Do employers invest in the development of workers’ talents, and invest in upskilling? Do educational systems prioritise the development of transversal competences? Do policy makers support a skills policy that, instead of focusing on short-term needs for certain professions, adopt a long-term approach to invest in transversal skills and competences needed to thrive not only on the labour market but also as active citizens? SOLIDAR Foundation believes that access to public quality education, professional experience and training is a common good. Therefore a sound education and training policies should be adopted in Europe to support people in transition or reintegration to the labour market, to prevent a digital gap. This needs investment! Public investment!