AI and the future of skills in the digital era

On October 9th and 10th, 2023, the ETF Skills Lab Network of Experts of the European Training Foundation (ETF) gathered nearly 100 participants for their annual live event in Turin, Skills (R)Evolution: understanding and developing skills for a digital era, which was designed, organised and moderated by Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini in collaboration with ETF.

Providing a platform for in-depth discussions and insights, the conference underscored the importance of a human-centred approach to navigate the digital era and ensure a shared vision for the future of education and skills in 2050.

In order to explore the impact of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of skills, experts and policymakers have converged, with half of the participants representing ETF partner countries.

Navigating the digital era

The first day of the event set the stage for engaging discussions about the transformational potential of AI and digitalisation in EU's neighbouring countries. As they dived into this digital journey, participants expressed a blend of excitement and concern.

The morning session opened with an introduction by Francesca Rosso, coordinator of ETF Skills Lab Network of Experts, followed by a welcoming address from Pilvi Torsti, ETF's Director, which set the tone for a day of deep exploration.

A highlight of the morning was the keynote speech by Professor Maha Gmira, an AI strategist with extensive experience at the United Nations for development. Focusing on training in the era of generative AI and on the rapid advancements in AI technology, she underscored the need to address gender imbalances in the tech sector.

Digitalisation and artificial intelligence: nothing to fear?

The participants had to grapple with a pivotal question: will developments in AI have an overall positive or negative impact on the labour market, education, and learning? Using red and green cards, attendees provided feedback on key aspects which have been discussed through a debate.

Notably, few participants described themselves as genuine "experts'" in emerging digital technologies and AI, underlining the complex and evolving nature of the field.

Expert witnesses, including Filippo Chiarello, Assistant Professor of Strategic and competitive intelligence at the University of Pisa; Tom Wambeke, Chief of Learning innovation at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization (ILO); and Terence Hogarth, Professor at the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick, shared their experiences and answered questions.

While concerns about the potential risks to the labour market were voiced, the prevailing sentiment was one of optimism: digitalisation and AI were seen as potential drivers of progress in education and training.

It was highlighted that technological change has historically enhanced employment and skills, and consensus was expressed over the fact that AI's threats to jobs could be mitigated by ensuring that its development remains centred around human values.

Inspirational field visits

Eight thematic discussion groups on various aspects of digitalisation were also held, which delved into topics such as the impact on the labour market, digital skills, and the role of AI in skills' intelligence.

Moreover, attendees had the unique opportunity to embark on field visits to organisations in Turin pioneering the use of technology and AI to drive competitiveness. Among these, CIM 4.0, a competence centre supporting companies in utilising enabling technologies; Italdesign, a leading innovator in mobility solutions; and COMAU, an industrial automation company providing training programmes for individuals and companies.

Foresight exercise

The second day of the event revolved around a collective foresight exercise where participants collaborated in small groups to envision education and training in the year 2050. Each group member took on a unique persona in the world of education and training to develop a vision for 2050, emphasising the role of AI.

A discussion was then held about which actions are required to turn these visions into reality for shaping the future of digitalisation and AI in education and training.

Connecting the dots: key messages for 2050

The event's concluding session aimed to synthesise key messages and reflections on the path to 2050, which included:

  • Digitalisation and AI as a force for good. The potential for technology to reduce educational inequalities and support green initiatives;
  • Technology as a tool for humans. The importance of maintaining core human values in technological advancements;
  • Each of us has a role to play. The vital role of all stakeholders in shaping digital solutions; 
  • Ensure good governance. Human-centred and non-discriminatory processes and a fair transition;
  • The public sector as enabler. The role of the public sector in fostering engagement and basic education on AI and democratic values;
  • Act now. The urgent need to address the rapid transformation of education and learning brought about by digitalisation and AI;
  • Information and data are key. The critical role of data in understanding the impact of digitalisation and AI on the labour market, skills, education, and training.  

Watch the video recording of the conference