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Towards digital, ethical and social sustainability: a competence-based path

Digital format, 02/07/2021, Annual Conference for the Friends of Aspen

Training is going to be key to the post-pandemic economic recovery. Indeed, with the crisis having accentuated social divisions, the accelerating digitization process has even more starkly foregrounded the skills divide.

The issue should be addressed from two perspectives: one, the need to overcome the resistance of many Italian workers not participating and not intending to participate in training courses; second, encouraging businesses to focus on investing in human capital and nurturing the process of life-long learning. At the same time, there is a need to intervene at the level of the school system in order to better prepare the new generations for the STEM skills that future jobs will require, thereby structurally reducing youth unemployment and the phenomenon of the neither employed nor engaged in education or training (NEET). For these efforts to be effective, it is essential that some form of quality training continue and be aligned with market demand and capable of tapping the potential of various age groups.

The changes underway are also being driven by a new concept of work, which can no longer be considered a question of merely punching a timeclock but of stocking a warehouse of skills. These latter must no longer be thought of in terms of costs but as assets and part of a company’s overall wealth and, to that end, it is important to create a market capable of generating a sort of register of human capital. Treating exploitation and undervaluation as negative externalities would contribute to creating a structurally sustainable job market in an economy in which the generation of wealth depends increasingly on intangibles.

People and their skills remain crucial in ways increasingly influenced by technology and artificial intelligence, especially when capable of developing that critical thinking that contributes to designing and orienting algorithms. The digital transition, like other phase-driven transitions, is generating a complexity that demands transversal skills. These must also be used in defining an ethical code for a new world shaped by the collection and utilization of data.

Digital technology has great potential as a driver of sustainable and inclusive economic and social growth; the key to success lies precisely in combining technology and human capital. The issue is also a cultural one: the digital transition is costly and therefore is obliging Italy’s vast network of small and medium-sized enterprises to embrace a paradigm shift. The National Recovery and Resilience Plan offers an opportunity to make that happen. Although its mission is not explicitly job-centered, it can offer important instruments for upgrading skills and rebooting the economy. An undertaking that must involve both the public sector, given the importance of the school and university systems, and the private sector, which has the dynamism needed to mobilize the resources of businesses and individuals.