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Training and skills: the labor market and new challenges

  • Rome
  • 5 December 2023

        In this period of sweeping changes in the work world it is important to pinpoint the most pressing challenges. In general, the adoption of an analytic approach – one that makes it possible to distinguish between opportunities and threats, and that facilitates the identification of eventual corrective instruments – is fundamental.

        Discussion at this event took its cue from the 2023 Report “Responding to global needs: new jobs, new training”, compiled by the New Jobs = New Training Permanent Observatory set up by Aspen Institute Italia in 2022 within the Italian Talent Abroad Community. 

        As the report highlights, the most authentic challenges emerge at the intersection of the major current emergencies: climate change, as well as and even more importantly the technological challenges triggered by the impetuous development of Artificial Intelligence (AI), are already setting the pace for a radical conversion in processes. In addition, the growing demand for specialized skills spurred by the educational and cultural transition is producing a tendency toward the simplification and generalization of information that is leading to outright skepticism toward science. Last but not least are democratic, demographic and social issues. 

        The 57th Censis Report presented in December 2023 on the country’s social situation highlights the shift in how young people attribute meaning to work, leading to an inversion of what was once considered the “expression of the vocation and development of the person and the community”. The report states that 62.7% of Italians no longer consider what people do for a living as central to their lives.

        The combination of these elements in a context of growing economic and geopolitical volatility offers a scenario of widespread confusion and individual retreat, amply borne out by a tendency to reject work as an identity factor and by the insurgence of fears and resistance to progress, particularly with the advancement of AI. Since these tendencies constitute an important obstacle to the pursuit of increased prosperity, it is necessary to generate an objective debate with regard to technology.

        A central issue concerns the obvious jobs gap left by the automation of many productive processes. The phenomenon is difficult to quantify, despite the massive efficiency that AI now clearly offers in numerous fields ranging from medicine to justice, professional training and even at the level of bureaucracy. Yet resistance to innovation is as widespread in the public sector as it is in the private sphere of SMEs. This attitude is traceable to scarce professional flexibility, a limited awareness of the potential advantages and considerable concern about job security.

        In terms of employment, only a society and most importantly a leadership founded on strong, non-negotiable values can guarantee that AI will not simply replace humans, but rather help increase the efficiency of their actions. To that end, the importance emerges of a solid education in critical and scientifically grounded thinking, thanks to which it will be possible to establish a positive, and not alienating, man/machine collaboration. It is also worth underscoring that in order for many professions not to be eliminated they must be adequately redefined in terms of both duties and skills.

        The new generation of workers will necessarily develop a healthy attitude toward adaptation; the central goal of training must therefore be the development of trans-disciplinarity; i.e., a receptiveness to developing new skills with a view to embracing processes of lifelong learning. Yet, also important to fully comprehending the advantages of AI is a greater “technological socialization”; to that end, older workers could benefit for example from mentoring by younger ones that helps improve opportunities for accessing employment.

        The challenge remains, however, of involving the entire social spectrum in this broad collective effort. This is an increasingly arduous effort given the spreading reluctance to participate. The role of the school system will be fundamental, from the earliest years onward. Indeed, with the contemporary world calling for increasingly complex cognitive capacities, simplification tendencies tend to inhibit progress and have even become sources of mass deception. 

        In upper secondary school education it is important that individuals develop vertical and specialized skills, particularly centered on professional demands; the virtuous contribution offered by business/university collaboration becomes pivotal in this area.

        Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that, given the current needs for automation, digitalization itself is a process that in many ways remains incomplete. Italy must fill this gap in order to avoid inefficient functional segmentation in the work world.

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